Third bridge to return to city council Monday

The Marion and Center street bridges (Salem Reporter files)

Salem Councilor Jim Lewis hopes to keep the prospect of the Salem River Crossing alive next week by asking councilors to give the state information needed to move the project forward.

Lewis will ask Salem City Council to direct staff to answer concerns raised a year ago by the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Without answers, state transportation officials say they are unable to complete a sweeping environmental analysis.

Lewis is pushing the council to act through a motion filed recently that is expected to be discussed Monday, he said.

The state’s concerns have gone unanswered as the council’s makeup has shifted in recent years, with more councilors elected who oppose the bridge.

Lewis, who represents West Salem, told Salem Reporter he made the motion because he still hopes someday the Salem River Crossing, which would connect the Highland Neighborhood to West Salem, would be built.

“There needs to be a vote (to answer the questions),” said Lewis. “I’m hoping council has the courage to make a decision Monday night.”

His motion would have councilors direct staff to address three concerns raised by the state in August 2017. The board said the city had to update its population forecasts on its transportation plans, address zoning issues near the Willamette River and clarify how those moves would comply with state guidelines for building near rivers.

Since its proposal in 2006, the Salem River Crossing has been among the most divisive issues in city politics. Campaigns for city council have often boiled down to support or opposition.

In September, four councilors told Salem Reporter they still oppose the third bridge because of concerns over disruption to homes and businesses, environmental problems and costs.

Lewis said he is acting because of deadlines set by the Federal Highway Administration, millions of dollars from which have already been spent on the Salem River Crossing.

Those federal dollars flow through Oregon Department of Transportation and the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study and have so far paid $8 million for feasibility studies, according to Dan Fricke, a senior transportation planner with ODOT.

Both local entities say they are worried that if the project doesn’t advance by September 2019, the federal agency will ask for its money back.

“Time constraints are forcing the issue,” Lewis said. “I’m the one bringing it forward. I’ve waited as long as I can.”

In a seven-page letter sent to council last week, the transportation study group said it and ODOT are “strongly opposed to be in a position requiring us to pay back any federal funds.”

The local group, which funds transportation projects in the region, includes Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano, Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope, Salem-Keizer School Board Member Paul Kyllo, Cherriots Board Member Kathy Lincoln, Turner Mayor Gary Tiffin, Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark, Lisa Nell of ODOT, and Lewis.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.