Before you read the rest of this, take these points into consideration. I believe the city of Corvallis cannot and should not pay for repurposing the old Van Buren Bridge. I believe that the current design team (DOWL) is designing a wonderful new vehicular river crossing at the present site of the existing bridge. I do not believe in obstructing that design process in any way and any consideration for repurposing should be in harmony with that process.
That being said, here’s what I have been involved in since October of last year. At that time, I was dismayed that the old bridge was not going to be allowed to pay its own way into the future by reducing requirements on the new bridge construction. The old bridge was not going to be allowed to contribute to the new project by its serving as the required temporary detour superstructure, by providing permanent function that would reduce the deck footprint (thus costs) of the new bridge, and by eliminating its own substantial demolition costs. Somehow in the planning iterations, a rush to the finish line for the new bridge developed and the “consensus” became that the old bridge has to go. An unrealistic plan of allowing new owners to buy the bridge was developed and offered. If not sold, it must be demolished. That seemed ludicrous to me.
I then had many discussions with various bridge contractors who thought the project design team's (ODOT/DOWL) costs for repurposing the bridge were vastly overstated. Based on that, I assembled a team of engineers and construction company owners with over 200 years of experience in bridge design and construction. With a generous stipend from Preservation WORKS, we commissioned an engineering study by an independent engineer. We find these points:
• The old bridge is functionally and structurally feasible for pedestrian use. Some upgrade costs were included in estimates developed by our team.
• The argument that sliding the bridge and using it for a detour is too risky was overstated. Any detour will require traffic interruption. A high-impact/low-duration slide operation would save the project a couple million dollars. There are short-term detour alternates available.
• The bridge repurposing is not a “bridge to nowhere.” As proposed and detailed, it hooks up to the currently proposed project at each end with little or no impact to current planning.
• The costs for the bridge slide to upstream positioning on permanent foundations are less than half those given city officials in the planning sessions late last year.
• The pedestrian/bike use will be much more pleasant and considerably safer. Steep grades into intersection congestion occur with the new bridge. Look eastward from the town side at the Van Buren Bridge. Picture the deck grade climbing two-thirds the height of the trusses at midriver. Is this a friendly, safe bike/wheelchair grade?
Our work at this point was really just a matter of determining how this happened and improving future planning procedures to allow alternative community input. Currently, the planning requires permitting studies and time-consuming review that will lock all of our concepts away from coming to any fruition.
Lastly, the experienced crew I was working with can only see less than $62 million of expenditure in the presently planned project. There is over $70 million in this Corvallis project appropriation. It almost seems like Corvallis should stick up for itself and see that all the appropriated transportation dollars are spent here in Corvallis. Many towns in Oregon have repurposed old truss bridges which have become popular bike/pedestrian facilities.
Dennis McGee is a retired bridge engineer whose research on the Van Buren Bridge helped form the basis for a study on the bridge commissioned by Preservation WORKS.
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