With acceptance of grant, City can finally build the Flanders Crossing Bridge

On Wednesday Portland City Council accepted a $2.8 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation to build a new carfree bridge over Interstate 405 at Flanders Street.

It was the final funding hurdle for a project that has been hoped-for in Portland planning documents for over 20 years. At the council meeting, PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman said, “This has been a long time coming.”

Saltzman is the only Council member remaining from a 2008 effort that would have recycled the old Sauvie Island Bridge for use at this same location. That project had broad support, but fell victim to politics when it was labeled a pet project of Commissioner (and mayoral candidate) Sam Adams. His opponent in the race Sho Dozono (and his major supporter, former Mayor Tom Potter), used the Flanders project as a way to symbolize what they felt was Adams’ lack of fiscal responsibility and empathy for east Portlanders. In many ways, the 2008 debate over this project was the beginning of the transportation equity argument that persists today.

My how things change.

Wednesday’s discussion at council could hardly have been less controversial. The only peep about that contentious past debate came from Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. Prior to voting in support of the bridge she said, “This almost makes me wish I lived in Northwest Portland… I do hope we can bring the same kind of innovation and resources to neighborhoods outside of the central city.”

Speaking of resources, the total cost of the Flanders Crossing Bridge is estimated to be $5.9 million. For historical context, Adams’ novel plan to re-use the old Sauvie Island bridge at Flanders was estimated (at the high end) to cost almost the same amount — about $6.2 million in 2017 dollars. It’s a bargain at that price especially when you consider PBOT models project 9,100 average daily trips over the bridge by 2019.

This time around the funding sources are a combination of Transportation System Development Charges and this ODOT grant via the Connect Oregon program.

In addition to a 24-foot wide bridge with two six-foot bike lanes and sidewalks in both directions, the project will include two new traffic signals and changes to adjacent streets. Here’s what to expect beyond the bridge:

  • A new signal at NW 16th and Flanders
  • A new signal at NW 14th and Flanders
  • NW 16th will change to a single vehicle lane north of Glisan. At Glisan people will be forced to either turn right (west) or continue straight toward Flanders.
  • PBOT will install a median on NW 16th between the western most lane and two eastern most lanes from Glisan south to Everett. There will be a gap in the median at Flanders for bridge users. The median will prevent people from using the western through lane to get onto the I-405 on-ramp at Everett. It will also prevent people in cars from using the western most lanes once they get into the southbound through lane at Glisan.

These signals and other changes speak to the bridge’s role in the Flanders Street Neighborhood Greenway — a route from the Waterfront to upper northwest Portland that will be prioritized for cycling and walking.

The crossing of I-405 has been the missing link in that greenway for many years. PBOT Planner Zef Wagner said at council on Wednesday that, “I-405 has divided the neighborhood ever since it was built. It’s a trench cut through the neighborhood.” He also compared it to the carfree Tilikum Crossing Bridge over the Willamette River, saying the Flanders Crossing will cross a “river of concrete.”

PBOT expects to finish the design and plans for the bridge by January 2018. Construction should be completed by April 2020.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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