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Traffic on the Van Buren Bridge crosses the Willamette River to the Linn County side of the bridge. The Corvallis City Council discussed plans to replace the obsolete structure at its Thursday work session.

Add the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the United States Coast Guard to the agencies that will play a role in the project to replace the Van Buren Bridge.

The FHWA must chime in by Aug. 31 on the feasibility of replacing the bridge. If the feds say the bridge stays, it stays.

Second, whatever decision is made regarding the current structure triggers the need for an amended Coast Guard permit. According to Adam Steele, project manager with the city’s Public Works Department, the bridge would need to be raised to meet current waterway navigability standards. The permit has not been amended for some time, although neither city nor Oregon Department of Transportation officials on hand at a Thursday work session knew exactly how long.

Thus, if the city or a private owner antes up to prevent the bridge from being demolished, they would have to jack it up an undetermined number of feet. And if the feds say it has to stay, it still has to be jacked up.

The Corvallis City Council discussed these issues at a work session at the Madison Avenue Meeting Room. Councilors had tentatively scheduled a “decision meeting” on what to do with the outgoing bridge at its Sept. 3 regular session.

But that will almost surely be delayed because of its proximity to the Aug. 31 federal deadline.

Several councilors expressed sentiments favoring preservation of the bridge, although they also admitted to being daunted by the projected price tag of up to $12 million.

Ward 6’s Nancy Wyse said she has not made a decision yet, but “I don’t feel positive with $12 million as a starting point. We would need a bond (to finance it) and even if we had $12 million would this be the best thing to spend it on?”

Wyse, along with several of her colleagues, reacted positively to an option presented by staff that would pursue preserving some pieces of the old bridge. Others noted some approaches worth emulating in Salem and Eugene, a concept rejected by Ward 5’s Charlyn Ellis.

“I would like to keep the bridge,” she said. “This is a chance to maintain something. This is not Salem or Eugene … this is Corvallis.”

Ellis also suggested that a new two-lane bridge with bicycle and pedestrian amenities, which is what ODOT is proposing, would be unsafe for the bike and ped folks because of the higher volume of traffic.

City staff promised to bring back some financial options to discuss at the Aug. 22 work session. No public testimony was taken at Thursday's session. The next public comment session set specifically for the bridge project is scheduled for April 2020. Those wishing to offer their thoughts on the replacement plan also can do so at regular City Council sessions.

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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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