An important feature of a new Salem landscape, a bicycle and pedestrian bridge that would cross 300 feet of Willamette Slough and link Salem’s riverfront with Minto-Brown Island Park, has passed nearly every hurdle.

The project is called the Minto Island Pedestrian Bridge and Trail, and its basic concept, a tiered arch bridge with a 3/4th mile trail leading to Minto park on the southwest end, was approved in March 2009 by the City Council.

A more refined, pictorial design that was created by Northwest consulting engineers OBEC, was approved this past August.

But far fewer than expected grant monies were received to fund the project. In October, a $6 million funding shortage (on $9 million needed) slowed it so much that it was thought that the project would have to be redesigned.

The funding crisis was remedied when Salem City Council committed $5 million from urban renewal funds at its October 8 meeting. The project now also expects more than a million additional urban renewal funds in 2013- 2014.

The transfer of funds will help the project attract state grants and foundation and private contributions. A final $1.6 million gap still exists.

Some downtown programs, such as the City’s “Toolbox” grants – designed to build and renovate properties, will lose funding because of the urban renewal transfer.

The virtues of a completed Minto bridge are compelling to Emil Graziani, member of the Friends of Two Bridges board of directors.  Friends of Two Bridges is a nonprofit, grassroots local group dedicated to raising awareness of the projects potential.

“The [Minto] bridge and trail makes Salem marathons possible,” Graziani says.  “Imagine people attending a conference at our very successful convention center or living downtown and wanting to take a walking break.  In minutes they can be in a natural preserve– Minto-Brown Island Park.”

“Now imagine people shopping and wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of shopping or people seeking a long walk incorporating three very different urban parks,” which, connected by “two bridges” are greater in acreage than New York’s Central Park.

At this point in the Minto bridge process, OBEC is refining designs and preparing permits, an effort that will probably conclude in March 2013. Next comes bidding and final design phases. Bridge construction dates depend on funding, but are expected in early 2015.

The Friends of Two Bridges have also raised about $10,000 for the project, thanks to contributions from Gallagher Fitness Resources, Court House Fitness, Venti’s Café’ and Tap House, 38 other downtown Merchants and 100s of runners/walkers who participated in six “On Your Feet Friday” events organized by the Friends group.

Minto Island Park is located southwest of city center, across 300 feet of Willamette Slough waters. It contains 900 acres of wildlife refuge, miles of trails, an off-leash dog area and many views of the Willamette. The major urban parks to be connected by trails are: Wallace Marine Park in West Salem, Riverfront Park along the Willamette and, across the new pedestrian bridge, Minto-Brown Island Park. The Minto footbridge will mean that more than twenty miles of trails will be available for public use.

“It will change downtown and make it a more active community,” says Alexandra Phillips, a bicyclist and the Bicycle Recreation Coordinator for Oregon Parks and Recreation. “Salem people will use it day and night.”