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Milwaukie's Three Bridges open for pedestrians, cyclists

by: patrick sherman, A pair of bagpipers leads a procession of local leaders across the

Accompanied by the piercing wail of bagpipes, a procession of local leaders performed a ribbon-cutting ceremony in three parts last week, to mark the opening of the Three Bridges project in Milwaukie.

Spanning Johnson Creek, McLoughlin Boulevard and the Union Pacific rail line, these three spans bring the overall Springwater Trail project a step closer to completion. Once the 'Sellwood Gap' has been filled, walkers and cyclists will be able to travel from OMSI on the shore of the Willamette to Boring on 17 continuous miles of paved trails.

'This has been one of the best projects in the region, in terms of connecting communities making alternative forms of transportation viable,' said Metro Council Brian Newman, who first championed the Three Bridges project years earlier, as a member of the Milwaukie City Council.

'This trail has always been heavily used, with upwards of 600,000 people traveling on it every year, but that was mostly for recreation on evenings and weekends,' he said. 'The goal is to transform this into an alternative transportation mode highway.

'It would have been one thing if it has been just one obstacle that we had to get over, but there were three. A lot of people said that this would never be done. Some people at the staff level over at the City of Portland told us we would be lucky to get one bridge.'

Newman recounted how he rallied school children, cyclists and pedestrians to his cause, sending 1,000 postcards to the Metro Council, advocating for the project.

'The citizens who participated in this effort deserve a lot of the credit,' he said. 'The citizens made this project possible - this celebration is about them.'

Stepping up onto the podium, Representative Earl Blumenauer said: 'This is part of a long-term plan. As I look around, I see people who were yelling at me 20 years ago about kick-starting the bicycle program in Portland. I want to congratulate everyone that made this possible, but we also need to focus on where we go from here.

'Hopefully, we will have many more ribbons to cut.'

Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder highlighted the larger implications of the Three Bridges and the Springwater Trail.

'These are the kind of key projects we can do that will have an impact on global warming and energy independence,' he said. 'It will give people options and allow them to make a choice that will get them out of their cars.'

Milwaukie Mayor Jim Bernard took the opportunity to paraphrase the ancient proverb which states that 'all roads lead to Rome.'

'Today, all trails lead to Milwaukie,' he said. 'Right now, we're in the process of looking for funding to connect this trail to the Milwaukie Riverfront, and from there you can jump on the Trolley Trail and go all the way to Gladstone.'

The mayor offered his thanks and congratulations to the city's partners in the five-year project, adding: 'We're proud to have Portland as our suburb.'

With the speeches ended and the red ribbons across each of the three spans cut, Newman turned his attention to the future of the trail and a plan to close the 'Sellwood Gap.'

'We're in negotiations right now with Dick Samuels, who owns the rail spur that runs through this 17-block gap between SE 19th and SE Umatilla - it's basically a big 'C' shape,' he said. 'We want to purchase an easement for the trail, which will run right alongside the tracks. Our goal is to get an agreement this winter, and start work after that.'