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The Oregon Department of Transportation has $69 million available for the design and construction of a new two-lane with improved bicycle and pedestrian amenities over the Willamette River. The one-lane Van Buren Bridge, which runs eastbound on Highway 34, is shown here.

Deadline day for the Van Buren Bridge is Oct. 21.

That’s when the Corvallis City Council has scheduled a vote on whether the city will take over ownership of the current bridge. The meeting will offer community members a chance to comment, but Oct. 21 is the last scheduled council meeting before an Oct. 31 deadline from the Oregon Department of Transportation. 

ODOT has $69 million available to design and build a replacement for the bridge, but it wants the city's answer on the old bridge by the end of the month so that the project can move forward. Construction is tentatively scheduled to being in 2022.

Councilors spent 90 minutes discussing the bridge project with ODOT and Public Works Department officials at a Thursday work session at the Madison Avenue Meeting Room. Councilors as a rule do not vote or make decisions at work sessions.

But it seemed clear from the questions and remarks of councilors that there is a) a strong feeling of, well, affection for the bridge, which debuted in 1913; and b) the seemingly insurmountable challenge of how to pay for preserving or relocating it.

ODOT and the Federal Highway Association determined Oct. 1 that the alignment the current bridge occupies is the preferred one for the new bridge. The city could choose to keep the old bridge where it is, but ODOT then would have to tweak the direction of eastbound lanes that would head from downtown Corvallis to the new bridge.

Also, the old bridge would have to be raised to meet current U.S. Coast Guard navigability standards.

And there is no money available to do anything with the old bridge save $650,000 to $950,000 in ODOT mitigation funds. Preserving or moving the bridge could cost up to $10 million, although no firm cost estimates were available.

City Manager Mark Shepard noted that councilors authorized a new public safety fee last November and voters passed a new levy in May. The fee and the levy have added approximately $11 million annually for parks and recreation programs, the library and the hiring of 19 police staffers and six firefighters. In addition, Benton County voters Nov. 5 will pass judgment on a 911 emergency dispatch service taxing district that will raise approximately $3.7 million to pay for 11 hires and equipment. Formation of the district is intended to improve response times.

“The fact that we are talking about a new bridge that requires no city funding is amazing,” Shepard said. “We’ve asked the community to step up and help us out with funds. Going out for additional funds. ... I’m not sure how the community would respond.”

Other councilors, including Ed Junkins (Ward 8), Nancy Wyse (Ward 6) and Andrew Struthers (Ward 9), noted that even if the city could find another $10 million, preserving the Van Buren Bridge might not be the best way to spend it.

In other action at the work session, councilors continued their discussion of ways to revamp city advisory boards and commissions. Some panels are required by law, such as the library board and the budget and historic resources commissions, but the 20 or so other boards could be altered, reconfigured or eliminated by the council.

Key goals of the project are to ensure that the boards align with the city’s vision work; facilitate public participation; be efficient for staff to support; be effective for the council; and allow diverse views to exist.

Councilors spent 30 minutes on the discussion and worked up a series of questions that councilors will take back to the boards on which they participate. There was a bit of a tug-of-war on the council between those who felt that engaging the advisory boards themselves would slow down the process. Others felt that the information gathered from such outreach would be crucial to the project.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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