Salem Residents Consider New Bridge

By Anthony SanFilippo

The City of Salem continues to grow. With growth, comes additional infrastructure needs. In this community, the chief infrastructure need has been to build a third bridge over the Willamette River.

Mid-Valley residents need a new bridge to reduce traffic congestion and to help ease their commutes for work, school and entertainment, not to mention help save their cars from guzzling gas or wearing down faster from constant stops and starts.

Salem City Council’s next meeting on Monday, Nov. 26 at 6:00pm will include a motion asking that Council take the required actions to respond to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) remand and support the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Salem River Crossing.

The City staff has not responded to the LUBA. This motion will require the staff to address the issues on remand to keep the Salem River Crossing Project moving forward.

Currently there is only one access point connecting East Salem, West Salem, the coast and the surrounding communities. The traffic has become onerous. The Latest traffic volume numbers over the two Salem bridges are the highest ever and they continue to rise. In 2017, 72% of all weekday traffic counts exceeded 100,000 vehicles per day.

Accidents or events at the bridge (such as the overturned hay truck on October 19th) happen frequently and negatively impacts the traffic flow of goods and services as well as the previously mentioned mobility needs of Mid-Valley residents.

There may not be any long-term answers to seismic threats that the current bridges can address. By the Fall of 2019 a better understanding of the feasibility of a seismic upgrade for the Center Street Bridge and approaches will be known. However, due to its design and age, the Marion Street Bridge is not being considered for any seismic upgrades. Mitigation for seismic hazards using modern standards would be part of the structural design of the new bridge.

Efforts to get a third bridge built go back decades. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the city of Salem and the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study (SKATS) have had a funding agreement since 2006 to examine this possibility of a new bridge. Since that time, more than $8 million has been spent on the Salem River Crossing Study and the Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has extended the deadline on a decision for this potential new bridge to Sept. 30, 2019 at which time ODOT and SKATS may be asked to pay back a portion or all of the federal money expended on this project.

Completion of the Final EIS and a Record of Decision is only a first step in the process. It gives SKATS permission from FHWA to take the next steps. Construction of a new bridge and other parts of the plan will take many years and potentially be done in several phases. Funding and actual construction phasing won’t happen until a later date.

Abandoning the process now, though, could set back the Mid-Valley region for decades.


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