Salem’s Chamber of Commerce, its Homebuilders Association, our regional governmental forecasting agency and a City Councilor highlight 5 reasons

 

The debate over our region’s need for a third bridge to cross the Willamette between Salem and West Salem shows no sign of slowing. Since 2006, when the Salem River Crossing group began work to discover ways to reduce traffic congestion on the two existing bridges, arguments for and against a new bridge have only grown more pointed.

The debate over our region’s need for a third bridge to cross the Willamette between Salem and West Salem shows no sign of slowing. Since 2006, when the Salem River Crossing group began work to discover ways to reduce traffic congestion on the two existing bridges, arguments for and against a new bridge have only grown more pointed.

Salem Weekly has covered a number of rationale arguments by those opposed to construction. However, many believe a third bridge is a necessity. In the interest of balance this story presents the most popular pro-bridge arguments.

1. Significant traffic increase is inevitable
Bridge proponents maintain that the decrease in bridge traffic since 2007 is temporary, and that today’s 5-year slowdown does not negate historical trends.

Mike Jaffe is Program Manager for SKATS (Salem Kaiser Area Transportation Study), part of the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Government. SKATS makes long-range forecasts of employment, growth and housing so agencies have the information they need to make decisions.

They employ census statistics, building permits and travel models. Using methods validated against external sources, SKATS projects a long-term increase in bridge traffic more typical of historical trends; between 1990 and 2006, for example, there was a 45% overall traffic increase.

Jason Brandt, CEO of Salem area Chamber of Commerce, agrees that traffic will intensify. He refers to Figure 3.1-9 in the Salem River Crossing’s draft environmental impact statement published earlier this year.

“Projected afternoon peak traffic for one hour in 2031 out of downtown and onto the current bridge is just under 7,000 vehicles,” he says. Our current problem of traffic congestion a few hours a day will become a nightmare if nothing is done and acted on now.”

2. The reasons traffic recently decreased are temporary
Proponents provide several explanations for the current decrease in traffic, saying none of them will be long-term enough to negate the need for a new bridge.

They include a combination of A) the recession, in which high unemployment (over 9% in 2009-10) meant less travel to jobs and less income available for car payments, gas, etc., B) a sharp fall in Polk County per capita personal income, where the county dropped from 11th highest in the state in 2002 to 24th highest in 2011.  C) The rise in gas prices, which climbed sharply between 2006 and 2008 (to over $4/gallon). D) abnormally slow growth in West Salem meant fewer people needed to use the bridge.  From 1995 to 2006, both single- and multi-family units were constructed in West Salem at about 285 units per year. But since 2007, that has decreased to only about 67 units per year.

Advocates maintain that these problems will not last.  City Councilor Dan Clem says, “The decrease in average daily traffic during this period of recession and high fuel prices is temporary. The long-term trend of increasing need will prevail, and even with aggressive multi-modal projects, traffic counts (and population) will still increase by 80% in the next 20 years

3. West Salem will grow
Large areas of the urban growth boundary in West Salem are still undeveloped. “Much of Salem’s future growth will take place in West Salem,” believes Mike Erdmann, CEO of the Homebuilders Association of Marion and Polk County. “We need to ensure that adequate transportation infrastructure exists between Highway 22, West Salem and the east side of the river to handle that future traffic.”

4. Salem needs reliable emergency roadway
Car crashes and stopped traffic on current bridges could cause dangerous gridlock.
Clem says that, for him, “the need for a 3rd Bridge came to light during a June 2005 incident involving the freeze on all traffic for 4- 6 hours, including movement of emergency service vehicles.”
Although the City of Salem and ODOT have better ‘traffic incident management’ in place now, Clem was impressed by “the striking fact of how we must have multiple crossings.”

5. The region needs an earthquake-resistant crossing
A new modern bridge would prove valuable in the event of an earthquake. Erdmann reminds us, “city engineers have said the existing bridges will not survive a large Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that we’re overdue for. Without an additional bridge built to modern seismic standards, West Salem would be completely cut off from the east side of the river, with no access to Salem Hospital and other emergency services.”

According to University of Oregon scientists, odds are about 1 in 3 that a mega-earthquake (magnitude 8.2 or higher) will hit the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years.

Our next story: the environmental, personal and social losses a third bridge could cause.

 The opportunity for public input in the 3rd bridge conversation has been postponed until late January or early February 2013.
“There will be many more opportunities for the public to engage,” Peter Fernandez, City of Salem Public Works Director promises.
“By law, the city council can’t decide anything at work sessions, but only on the floor of the city council.  And the public can definitely weigh in before that.”
The next work session is Monday, December 17, 5:30 PM in the Anderson Rooms at the Salem Library.

 

Reminder of some arguments against a bridge:
The decline in bridge traffic since 2006, the Oregon State Highway Plan mandate to build heavily only as a last resort, the minimal commute time improvement that would be netted for hundreds of millions of dollars and the crushing financial burden that would be placed on Salem residents for 30 years.