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New bridge a necessity in Eugene.

Byline: CHRIS CLEMOW For The Register-Guard

OF ALL THE NOTABLE points of traffic congestion in Eugene, the most consistent and rapidly worsening is Belt Line Road between River Road and Delta Highway.

Between these points, Belt Line spans the Willamette River via a bridge (technically, two bridges). During peak hours on Belt Line, crashes are not uncommon. A phrase used by radio station traffic reporters is, "There are a whole lot of folks on one side of the river trying to get to the other side."

Another landmark displaying similar traffic conditions and drawing similar comments is the Ferry Street Bridge. Between these bridges there is only one other vehicular bridge in Eugene, the Interstate 105-Oregon Highway 126 bridge (the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge), across the Willamette.

Transportation planners and engineers speak in terms of average daily trips, or ADT. Traffic volume increases on Eugene bridges are most apparent on the Belt Line bridge, carrying 82,100 ADT in 2001, up from 71,400 ADT in 1998. This represents a 4.8 percent annual growth rate, more than double the metro area average. If this growth rate continues, the Belt Line bridge will reach its expected 96,000 ADT capacity by 2005.

The Ferry Street Bridge, having an annual growth rate of 3 percent, carries 64,000 ADT and could reach its expected 72,000 ADT capacity also by 2005. The Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge carried 66,000 ADT in 2001 and could reach its 82,000 ADT capacity by 2007-08, or sooner if the growth rate increases due to traffic diversion from the other two congested bridges.

One factor slowing traffic growth on the Ferry Street Bridge - and, to a lesser extent, the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge - is the use of Interstate 5 between the Franklin Boulevard and Glenwood interchanges. Of the 67,800 ADT crossing the Willamette River on I-5, traffic studies indicate 8,400 ADT are traveling to and from Franklin Boulevard.

One other vehicular bridge, Oregon Highway 99-Oregon Business 126, spans the Willamette River in the metro area and is located between Glenwood and Springfield. This bridge carried 28,900 ADT in 2001, and although some of those trips may be avoiding congestion on other routes, most of this bridge travel has an origin or destination near the bridge.

In all, 308,800 vehicles cross the Willamette River every day. About 232,000 of these trips (75 percent) are purely local in nature, made by motorists who are simply "on one side of the river trying to get to the other side." Of these five bridge routes, four are under Oregon Department of Transportation jurisdiction, of which two are interstate highways and two are statewide highways. These routes are intended to provide mobility between urban and regional areas and connections to ports and major recreation areas. Providing connections for intra-urban and intra-regional trips is a secondary function.

We have only one bridge for local traffic in the metro area, even though 75 percent of all traffic is local. By comparison, Roseburg (with a population of 20,000) has seven bridges across two forks of the Umpqua River, four of which are ODOT bridges. In Portland, there are 12 bridges between the St. Johns and the Oregon City-West Linn Bridge. Six are owned and maintained by ODOT (three are interstate routes), five are owned and maintained by Multnomah County; one is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad and leased to ODOT carrying light rail and auto traffic on the top deck and heavy rail traffic on the lower deck.

The missing link in our metro area is an action plan initiating a river crossing study. Widening of the Ferry Street Bridge was defeated by a hotly contested ballot referral in the early 1990s. More recently, the Valley River Bridge was eliminated from TransPlan, an unfortunate political capitulation removing the only project that actually decreased vehicle miles traveled per capita - the primary goal of Oregon's Transportation Planning Rule. Lane County has also abandoned efforts to construct a new bridge across the Willamette north of Belt Line Road. There may be a future effort to widen the Belt Line bridge, but such a move would simply reward inappropriate use of a facility of statewide significance for local trips.

It is time to initiate a study, in conjunction with the regional partners (ODOT, Lane County, Eugene and Springfield) to identify additional river crossings between Interstate 5 and Belt Line Road. The longer this effort is delayed, the more exposed we are to incidents threatening our mobility. PeaceHealth's pending move to RiverBend further subjects nearly two-thirds of Eugene's population to growing bridge congestion.

The planning, environmental impact studies, design, financing, appeal response and final construction of any new bridge is likely to take over a decade. We're already behind and will not be able to satisfy demand until the level of service declines. This may not be a politically popular battle, but it is one needing to be waged.

Chris Clemow of Eugene is a traffic engineer who has worked in public and private employment in the Eugene-Springfield area for the past 14 years. He is a member of the Lane County Planning Commission and has served on technical committees for both the city of Eugene and Lane County.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 2, 2003
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