Project may close trail link for a year

TribTown • Neighbors worry about cutting off foot traffic during work on bridge

Champions of the city's urban trails network are raising red flags about a coming Interstate 5 construction project that could close what they call a critical path for up to a year.

The project will reconstruct a freeway bridge over a deep ravine between George Himes Park and the Johns Landing area in Southwest Portland. It passes directly over a section of Urban Trail 3 that leads from the Willamette River to Barbur Boulevard.

The trail section is part of the so-called 40-Mile Loop that eventually will circle the city with walking and bicycle paths.

Although work on the project is not scheduled to begin until spring 2010, Hillsdale Neighborhood Association president Don Baack and other trail advocates already are urging the Oregon Department of Transportation to work with them to keep the trail beneath the bridge open.

'This is a crucial link for commuting and recreating,' said Baack, who also serves on SWTrails, a committee that helps plan and maintain walking and bicycle paths in Southwest Portland. 'ODOT should talk with us about ways of keeping it open.'

State transportation officials say they sympathize with the advocates but fear that people beneath the bridge could be hurt by falling debris during the project.

'Safety has to come first,' said ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson, who nevertheless adds that the public will be able to present all concerns at a series of public hearings before the work begins.

The bridge is known as the Iowa Street Structure because it passes over where Southwest Iowa Street ends at the Himes Park gully. Originally built in the 1960s to help carry traffic around the base of the West Hills, the bridge no longer meets current earthquake codes.

The project is budgeted at $45 million and is expected to take about a year to complete. To keep traffic flowing, work will include the construction of a temporary replacement bridge between the current one and Barbur Boulevard, which runs just to the west of it.

'Because we will be constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing the bridge there will be many opportunities for something to fall off,' Thompson said. 'But we are still in the early planning stages, so there is plenty of time to talk about it.'

Baack thinks the discussions should start with ODOT officials visiting Southwest neighborhood associations to hear their concerns.

'They're coming into our part of town, so they should talk to us,' Baack said. 'That's the way things work in Portland.'