City of Corvallis officials held their first discussion Thursday on plans and timetables for a replacement for the Van Buren Bridge.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has $69 million to spend on the project, which is being funded by the massive $5.3 billion transportation bill passed by the 2017 Legislature.

The one-lane bridge, the third oldest on the Willamette River, is seismically unsafe and has been categorized as “functionally obsolete” by ODOT since the 1970s.

Public Works Director Mary Steckel, who will be the city’s point person with ODOT on the project, told a council work session that ODOT hopes to do the design work for a new two-lane bridge during 2021 with two years of construction beginning in late 2021 or early 2022.

Steckel said ODOT will be building on studies done of the bridge in 2005 and 2009 rather than starting from scratch. Also, Steckel emphasized that “this is a bridge replacement project, not a congestion relief project.”

In other words, don’t expect major changes in the traffic flow or infrastructure on either side of the bridge.

“We will be moving traffic over the bridge faster,” Steckel said, “but it will not be a continuous flow” because of bottlenecks that will continue to exist on the west side of the Willamette.

“I think we need to manage expectations here,” said City Manager Mark Shepard. “There are a limited amount of funds, this is not a blank slate, and there is a balance to be struck. Some of the issues might outlive the bridge itself.”

The status of the current bridge, which was built in 1913, remains up in the air.

“That’s a key element we will have to work through,” said Ward 9 Councilor Hal Brauner, who worked on both the 2005 and 2009 plans. Concerns about the old bridge were “one of the reasons it didn’t go through before,” Brauner added.

“You have to do something with the old bridge, right?” asked Ward 4 Councilor Barbara Bull.

“It will not be used in the manner it is currently used for … that’s as far as I will go with that one for now,” Steckel said.

Steckel said that there will be opportunities for the public to comment on the plans and process for replacing the bridge, but she said she did not have any information on possible dates or timelines for community feedback.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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