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Van Buren Bridge may get reprieve
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Van Buren Bridge may get reprieve

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Rush hour traffic moves across the Van Buren Bridge into Linn County in 2017. Preservationists and councilors continue to work to preserve the bridge, which will be replaced with $69 million in state funds. 

The fate of the Van Buren Bridge might not be a done deal.

The Corvallis City Council voted 8-1 last Oct. 21 not to take ownership of the 1913 bridge over the Willamette River amid concerns about the high cost of maintaining/retaining it. The vote made it likely that the historic structure would be demolished.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has $69 million in funds to design and build a replacement bridge, but the state wants no part of the current span.

Preservationists and individuals who think the public process surrounding Van Buren Bridge issues was rushed and flawed have persistently campaigned to re-open the matter.

Letters have been sent to the Oregon Transportation Commission, bridge backers staged their own informational meeting in the lobby of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library on Jan. 16, when ODOT staffers and consultants held an open house in the main meeting room.

And six members of the public testified during the community comments section of Monday’s Corvallis City Council meeting. All urged preservation of the bridge and backed an effort by Ward 4 Councilor Barbara Bull to have city staff work with ODOT on the matter.

Key issues are whether there is flexibility in Coast Guard navigation rules that might require elevating the current bridge and whether the old span could be used as a detour bridge during construction of the new bridge and then used as a bike/pedestrian structure thereafter.

The council was considering four motions from Bull on the issue as presstime approached in the fifth hour of the meeting.

In other council highlights:

• Bicycle and pedestrian safety continued to be a strong public concern in the wake of the death of 11-year-old Rhiana Daniel after she was struck Jan. 8 in a pedestrian crosswalk on Third Street in South Corvallis.

Four people testified on the issue during community comments, with one resident, Bill Burton, calling for an investigation of why it took so long for the city to repair the damaged crosswalk in which Daniel was walking.

Daniel’s death was the third in the corridor in the past 18 months, and one of those testifying Monday, Jay Thatcher, continues to organize walk-in events in which folks use the crosswalks continually to increase awareness of the safety issue.

Thatcher and his group will be out at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the parking lots at Papa’s Pizza Parlor and Sharon’s Café the gathering spots.

Also, the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board meets at 7 a.m. Friday at the Madison Avenue Meeting Room, 500 SW Madison Ave. It will be the board’s first meeting since the Daniel incident.

On the agenda is a discussion of safety on Third Street, which also serves as state Highway 99W. On hand will be Savannah Crawford of ODOT, director Mary Steckel of Corvallis Public Works and Sgt. Jeff Marr of the Corvallis Police Department.

Also on the agenda is an update from City Engineer Greg Gescher on plans to repave Circle Boulevard this summer. Bike and pedestrian safety advocates want the city to do the work using new tools in the city’s transportation system plan update, but the city has not yet made a decision on the issue.

• Councilors voted unanimously to use the name Corvallis Community Center for the remodeled facility on Northwest Tyler Avenue that previously was called the Chintimini Senior and Community Center.

The center and its adjacent park are being remodeled and expanded, and the city is pulling away from the Chintimini name out of respect for the language of the area’s indigenous people. The $5 million project is being paid for by a state grant, systems development charges and a donation. No general fund money is being used.

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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