At the September 22 meeting of the Cherriots board, members voted to oppose the City of Salem’s land use action to expand Salem’s urban growth boundary (UGB) to accommodate a ‘3rd Bridge’ across the Willamette.
Citing lack of funding, lack of planning and apparent lack of inclusive transit options, among other issues, the vote was unanimous.
Cherriots is Salem-Keizer Transit, the agency dedicated to providing public transportation and enhancing the quality of life for the Salem and Keizer area. The board helps guide the agency in finding transportation solutions that best serve the community of Marion and Polk counties.
The matter of the 3rd Bridge action was introduced by Director Kathy Lincoln, Subdistrict 3, who asked the board to discuss and comment on the vote, scheduled for October 12. She referred to meetings she and other Cherriots board members had attended with a City of Salem transportation planning staff person and a representative of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Directors learned, she said, that “the construction report, the traffic import report the geology report, the land use report – none of these are even completed yet, but the city has already scheduled a hearing [with the affected governmental entities]… and they’re basing this on unpublished, uncompleted reports.”
Lincoln noted that even the bridge’s possible jurisdiction has not been decided on, meaning that it still could be the ongoing responsibility of the City of Salem or possibly the responsibility of the State, “which makes a huge difference in the cost” of maintenance for the life of the bridge. She noted that the current funding sources being considered, which include tolls, property taxes, vehicle registration increases or gasoline tax increases, would fall heavily on local residents.
Director Marcia Kelley, Subdistrict 7, observed that funding from outside the community might be very difficult to find. Portland’s Sellwood Bridge, for example, cost $319 million to replace and the state of Oregon paid only $30 million, impacting Portland resident’s pocket books. “It’s not on a federal highway, either,” Kelley noted, “so it’s questionable what federal highway money there would be.”
The cost of the proposed 3rd Bridge is estimated at $300 – $400 million, which would indebt local people for decades to come and divert local money from other issues.
Vice-President Steve Evans of Subdistrict 1 in West Salem was concerned that the proposed bridge would create bottlenecks in his part of town because Marine Drive, where the bridge would discharge, is a two-lane road with no turning lanes. “I’m concerned it will create bottlenecks for busses… and large trucks,” he said.
The transit board was “supposed to be a partner in this,” said President Robert Krebs of Subdistrict 6. “Things are happening sort of unilaterally with transit not being at the table.” Cherriots has not been consulted on the matter of the 3rd Bridge since 2014, when the board endorsed an earlier bridge version. “We’re not opposing the bridge,” Krebs added, “we’re opposing the process, and we’d like Transit to have a bigger role in decision making.”
In 2010, the City of Salem and Cherriots paid for an Alternate Modes study, which recommended a variety of ways to relieve bridge congestion in place of a large bridge construction project. Among suggestions were to increase transit, to provide better pedestrian and bicycle paths and staggering the workdays for state workers who commute across the river. None of these recommendations has been pursued by the city,” Lincoln noted.
Director John Hammill (Subdistrict 4) speaking only on behalf of himself and not the board, says there were “two conjoined arguments” that determined his vote on September 22. “First, we do not yet have a final design of the bridge proposal,” he says. “There are questions that need to be answered before I can responsibly decide if I will support or oppose the proposal under development. Second, considering this lack of a detailed design, I do not think it is timely to take further steps advancing the project.”
Since the time of the Cherriots board meeting, on October 5 – one week prior to the hearing when the city council will vote on the matter – the City of Salem released 63 staff reports and other materials, more than 3,500 pages to the public.
“There are hundreds of pages of information,” Lincoln says. “No one at the transit district has had an opportunity to review all of it to see how it impacts transit service. But from what we have seen, there is nothing included in the design or plans of the bridge that would benefit transit, such as park and rides, bus stops, express lanes.”
Hammill nominated Lincoln to speak on behalf of the Transit Board and express their concerns at the October 12 meeting when City Council will vote.
In a speaial meeting on Oct 10, Dan Clem, the Executive Director of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce asked the board to rescind their motion.
After discussion, the board voted 3-3, and the vote failed, meaning Lincoln will address council as previously directed.