Commissioners Nix Transit on Willamette River Bike/Ped Bridge Connecting Lake Oswego and Oak Grove

The future of a proposed bike/pedestrian Willamette River crossing between Lake Oswego and Oak Grove may be in jeopardy after a lengthy hearing by Clackamas County commissioners last week, at which they expressed support for the project was tepid at best.

The bridge would be built in the 10-mile stretch that currently has no river crossing between the Sellwood Bridge in Portland and the Arch Bridge in Oregon City. It would turn what could be between a 20- to 45-minute car ride (depending on traffic) into a 15-minute trip by bicycle.

The cost of the bridge is estimated at between $30 to $50 million, depending on the final alignment and design that county leaders ultimately settle on.

The project has been in the county’s Transportation System Plan since 2013 and appears to have enjoyed public support, until recently. A survey the county conducted as part of a Metro-funded feasibility study with over 600 respondents found 63 percent were in favor, with only 28 percent opposed.

But, based on last week’s hearing, the project may no longer have commissioners’ support.

The big turning point was when Metro officials asked Clackamas County to explore the possibility of adding transit to the project, specifically, a light rail line. Such an addition would double the cost, while significantly impacting public support for the project, particularly in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods.

The idea was a “non-starter,” according to Commissioner Ken Humberston.

Another major concern voiced by commissioners is how the bike/ped bridge, if approved, might affect funding available for other projects they deem higher-priority: mainly, increasing capacity on the county’s most traveled highways.

Much of the discussion centered on “T2020,” a proposed transportation investment measure that Metro is seeking to put before voters in the November general election. Clackamas County commissioners have several projects that they would like to see included — namely, upgrades to the Sunrise Corridor, safety improvements and repairs on Highway 43, and a parking garage on Park Avenue in Milwaukie.

County Chair Jim Bernard said in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t interested in pushing ahead on the bike/ped bridge if it meant sacrificing funding or political capital that could be used to realize the parking garage or a key highway project.

The local opposition that has more recently come to light was also a major concern for him, one he summed up in a metaphor that was…a little confusing.

So, where do we stand with the project now? Well, we know for sure that transit is out. Commissioners made it perfectly clear they would not support a proposal that includes anything but the capacity for bike and pedestrian traffic (although first responders could use the route in an emergency).

They also directed staff to find the best and most cost-effective design and alignment of the dozen or so that have been discussed to this point. This would be presented for a final round of public input before a final decision is made.

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