A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Benton: UP won’t allow bikeway underpass

Written April 6th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Neither this antique Schwinn nor any other bike will be used on the Albany-Corvallis Bikeway in any foreseeable timeframe.

It’s hard to say whether the long-planned but never built Albany-Corvallis Bikeway in Benton County is still a possibility, especially now that the Albany portion has to be reconsidered.

The North Albany segment, from Hickory Street to Scenic Drive, was intended to go under a trestle where the Union Pacific Railroad’s Toledo Branch line approaches Thornton Lake Road.

For months Benton County had been trying to secure the railroad’s permission for this underpass, and I was wondering about progress. On Tuesday, Public Works Director Gary Stockhoff told me the UP had said no.

“We will not be able to secure a permit to take the path under an existing trestle,” he wrote in an email, “so we are back to the drawing board on a route to get us to Scenic or thereabouts.”

I asked the Union Pacific for the reason. “Unfortunately,” corporate spokesman Tim McMahan replied, “the trail design plan did not meet the engineering and structural requirements federally regulated railroads use to assure pedestrians, cyclists and others can safely travel under rail infrastructure.”

Originally ODOT, in charge of constructing the North Albany segment, had planned to have it built in 2020.

In July 2019, Benton County sponsored a neighborhood meeting about the project at North Albany Middle School. Several property owners said they were worried about the bikeway, part of which would have gone through or past their backyards along the rail line before crossing under the track to Thornton Lake Road.

What about the rest of the roughly 10-mile route?

Here’s the update from Stockhoff: “The southern segment, which we refer to as the Conifer to Merloy section is progressing. Both ODOT and the County are moving forward with plan development, and securing the (right of way) needed to facilitate the path. I believe the current plan for ODOT calls for this segment to be under construction in 2023.”

As for the longest segment, from Scenic Drive west along first the north side of Highway 20 and then the other, nothing’s been done to develop the project since planning stopped in November 2017.

ODOT is getting ready to make safety improvements on Highway 20, at Independence Highway and Granger Road. If the bikeway ever goes forward, Stockhoff says sufficient right of way has been secured so the junctions would not have to be redone.

The idea of a bikeway linking Albany and Corvallis was advanced some 15 years ago by Linda Modrell, then a Benton County commissioner. Making it real has been more difficult than building the interstate highway system.

One blow came in February 2015, when the Benton County Planning Commission denied a conditional use permit to allow the bikeway to be built along the UP track on land zoned exclusively for farming.

So if you want to ride a bike from one of these towns to the other you can continue to brave traffic on Highway 20. Or you can take the scenic route Linn County has designated on the other side of the Willamette, on Riverside Drive. (hh)

The story has been edited to add the response from Union Pacific.

8 responses to “Benton: UP won’t allow bikeway underpass”

  1. HowlingCicada says:

    Bypass the worst part of Highway 20 (east of Hyak Park) by building a short, easy path. Give up on the rest, curse the darkness, and call it a day. Eastbound description:

    On the north side of the railroad tracks, build a 3/4 mile path from Rondo Street (across highway from Hyak Park) to Kouns Drive. Then you have a tolerable ride on the flat part of Kouns Drive and a little uphill on West Thornton Lake Drive to North Albany Road.

    You would need cooperation from the railroad and/or three other property owners. There are two houses near the path; both have driveways appearing to be on railroad property (see county tax lot map linked below). On aerial photos (Google maps), there’s what looks like the makings of a path, also on railroad property.

    Sorry, I wasn’t able to figure out a direct link to this area, so you need to pan and zoom (drag left mouse botton to pan, with shift key to outline a zoom-in box, click on property for info). You’ll notice a familiar owner name on the vacant middle lot.

    On the other hand, it may just be too dangerous to be anywhere on Highway 20 (even with 2-ton armor as per recent news), and no point doing anything, or even getting up tomorrow morning.

  2. James Engel says:

    Now wait just a darn minute. The R/R allows autos to pass under tracks in countless places in Oregon. We just drove the Elk City gravel road this past Monday & under the trestle. So the problem is…??? I’m not sure allowing the route to go along Thornton Lake Dr. That is a nasty, narrow, rough part of a road going west. And the speed limit is 35MPH. Traveling along Hwy 20 is just out of the question even if an extra wide shoulder was put in.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      “””I’m not sure allowing the route to go along Thornton Lake Dr. That is a nasty, narrow, rough part of a road going west.”””

      Good point. I forgot because almost every time I’ve ridden in from Corvallis on Highway 20 I wanted to go back on Riverside Drive.

  3. John Klock says:

    Union Pacfic is not a good neighbor. In things that matter to this community, the company is out of touch and reflects a classic corporate business model that does not reflect local community values. I have no problem pointing out Union Pacific’s lack of engagement in this community and the future of our country to our Congressman and elected state senators.

  4. Richard Vannice says:

    Mr. Engel. The gravel road you are citing was probably in place as a wagon road when the railroad from Corvallis to Newport was built.
    Oregon became a state in 1859 – ground was broken for the Corvallis, Newport rail line on 17 May 1877.
    Many of the roads that now go under railroad trestles were established and in use long before the railroads reached Oregon.
    I agree with you that Thornton Lake Drive and Hwy 20 are both hazardous for bicycle riders and pedestrians alike.

  5. Pat Riot says:

    All the influx of obstacles, delays, and private land owners’ ridiculous fear of the path bringing crime onto their properties is telling just how much domination the American car-centric and oil & gas industry ways have over all modes of transportation and ways of life. Not to mention how oblivious most people are to just complacently continue to sit back and drive everywhere as daily average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels climb from 350 to 400 to the current 415 parts per million. The future is dark.

  6. Al Nyman says:

    Use eminent domain to obtain a right away.

  7. North Albany Guy says:

    Perhaps a more designated bike shoulder, such as used along Oak Grove School with its pylons and rumble strip, might keep cyclist safer and be easier to get done. I feel much more comfortable with the wide shoulders (and heavy traffic) along Hwy 20, than with the non-existent shoulders (and occasional, but fast, traffic) on some of the other roads (Independence Hwy, Pettibone). So, some sort of added security may be enough for folks.

    However, I remember a survey done a number of years ago that the primary interest in biking Albany/Corvallis was one of recreation, and not commuting. For riders wanting a less stressful experience (possible with kids), nothing but a separate path would suffice.

    The RR seems like the obvious line, but I guess it is still a non-starter.

    (I also wonder if e-bikes will become popular enough to spur action for more paths.)

    On the other side of town the Albany Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is working on Jefferson, Millersburg, Albany, and Tangent. All that and more at: https://www.walkbikeplan2021.com/

    H.H., thanks for staying up on the bike beat.


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