A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Bridge congestion: Study will seek solution

Written April 12th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

Stop-and-go traffic on the Ellsworth Street Bridge at about noon on April 11, 2023.

Getting stuck in traffic on the Ellsworth Street Bridge in Albany used to be confined mostly to the afternoon commute. On Tuesday it happened to dozens of motorists (including me) at noon.

The two-lane bridge has been an occasional choke point for a long time, increasingly so since the the massive residential development of North Albany over the last 30 years.

Whenever the subject of traffic comes up, a cry goes up among the motoring public for another bridge. But there’s no chance of this coming about. The cost is only one reason.

Another reason is geography. A new or bigger bridge in roughly the same vicinity would necessarily wipe out part of Albany’s historic districts. And building a bridge downstream to connect with Conser Road in Millersburg would face many hurdles including legal challenges under Oregon’s land use law.

So, can anything be done with the bridge we have and the downtown traffic pattern that exists? Maybe.

The first step, as usual, is to hire a consultant. The Albany City Council agreed Wednesday night to do just that. It approved a contract of about $250,000 with DKS Associates of Salem.

The agreement calls for a traffic analysis of the Highway 20 corridor between Ninth Avenue and North Albany Road. That’s Ellsworth and Lyon streets (the two one-way legs of Highway 20 downtown), and Albany’s two highway bridges on the Willamette River.

A memo to the council described the project: “DKS’s work will consist of completing a comprehensive traffic analysis of the Hwy. 20 corridor, including evaluation of existing and future traffic conditions (congestion), development of a traffic simulation model to evaluate proposed solutions, and recommending projects with [an] implementation sequence to best relieve congestion along the corridor.”

To the layman, one way to get traffic off the Ellsworth bridge faster would be to lengthen the green phase of traffic signals at First, Second and Third avenues. But obviously that would create new delays and congestion on the side streets.

Ron Irish of the city told me this about the forthcoming study: “It will be looking at minor and major projects that would help address congestion along the corridor. One of the ‘minor’ projects it will look at is potential signal improvements/coordination/timing.  So we should learn shortly (it’s a 6-month study) if there are timing improvements that could help out. ODOT will be a participant in the study, so that should help when it comes time to obtain their approval for implementation of the study’s recommendations.”

One way for motorists to avoid traffic jams is to time their trips for periods when congestion is least likely, but that’s impossible for people on a schedule. If traffic engineers can come up with something better, we may find out when the study is finished later this year. (hh)

19 responses to “Bridge congestion: Study will seek solution”

  1. MarK says:

    My biggest concern is the delay this causes to emergency response vehicles. This really is a matter of life or death for people needing quick response. A couple of times I’ve been “locked” in non-moving traffic with emergency vehicle(s) stuck in the traffic in the middle of the bridge. There is NO timely alternative.

  2. Cap B. says:

    Sure would be nice to be able to throw the $15 million CARA is spending on a splash pad and a stage at the traffic congestion and road repair problems in Albany. (Guys, don’t go off on a tangent about CARA being an urban renewal district. Everyone by now knows that. I was at a meeting years ago of the committee who did the special study to see if they could get a bond measure passed for the new police station and the new fire station. The State of Oregon head of urban renewal laws spoke (even though Wes Hare, the city manager at the time, did not want her to). She said that urban renewal funds can be used for public projects such as police and fire stations (and I would imagine roads and bridges). But, that is all water under the bridge….pun intended.

  3. Bill Kapaun says:

    I’ve thought punching a road through at 53rd & Pacific Blvd through to Pirtle Drive would be a relatively simple solution (highway wise) to alleviate some of the traffic flow over the bridge and downtown. One relatively small bridge to cross the Calapooia would do it. Many people would just as soon drive a few more miles as get stuck in creeping traffic. The state might have to exercise a bit of “Eminent Domain” but they don’t find that to be a problem they’ll lose.

    Another option would be to prioritize the flow down 1st Ave. to Calapooia or Washington which would be made a “priority” one way to Pacific.

    • Cap B. says:

      I like your bridge over the Calapooia idea in order to “punch” through at 53rd and Pacific to Pirtle Drive. Wow, if First Avenue in downtown Albany was only, south from the bridge on, for one-way traffic going to Pacific Blvd., wouldn’t that affect the “hoards” of people going to the Carousel and the de-nuded-of-grass Monteith Park and the almost-empty Community Center (aka Sr. Center)?

      • Sherri Wallman says:

        Would the traffic be diverted to Pirtle Drive ? I am just curious as I live on that street. The speed limit is 25 mph. but we have people that live on Riverside Drive use the street as drag strip going 50 mph plus at times to get from Riverside to Oakville Rd. Thank you.

  4. Stephanie Low says:

    Wondering about a double decker bridge on Ellsworth? Same footprint with the current level as is, but the top level will bypass fst thru 6th Aves.and dropping vehicles onto 7th Ave.

  5. Dave Smith says:

    I wonder how much of the increased Albany traffic is due to the weight restrictions on the east bound, single lane bridge out of downtown Corvallis and that trucks headed for I-5 are being detoured through Albany? I live in Albany and have not followed this but it seems we’ve seen an an increase in large truck traffic coming from downtown Albany to the I-5 entrances.

  6. WW&WW says:

    Tollbooth on the Ellsworth Bridge! TOLLBOOTH ON THE ELLSWORTH BRIDGE!!!

  7. Anon says:

    Creating high density neighborhoods and zoning multi family property in North Albany at a time when the transportation grid going over the bridge was at a failing grade was completely irresponsible.

  8. Al Nyman says:

    So now we have another study! Last time I looked, ODOT was spending $5 million to see if I-5 needed to be widened through Albany. These studies are a complete waste of money and will result in nothing because ODOT spends all monies on employees and not on building roads and bridges. The small road built in East Portland to extend the Milwaukie Expressway was the first new road built in 40 years per the ODOT spokesman. So if anybody thinks ODOT is going to spend money on a new bridge in Albany, I would ask how is it going in getting them to build a new bridge over the Willamette in Corvallis?

  9. Seebee says:

    I’ve always wished for access from Millersburg to North Albany…a quick cutoff from I-5 to NA would save MANY a commuter an extended drive through downtown, and I’m sure less frustrating trip home…

    Yes, I realize farmland would be compromised, but it sounds like the city of Albany has already got their greedy hands ready thinking they will compromise said land for the proposed Italian company to build a manufacturing plant…

    Personally you couldn’t get me to move to NA because of the bridge backup!

    • Dick Olsen says:

      Yes, A new bridge from Spring hill to Conser Rd. in Millersburg would do the trick.

    • Matthew Calhoun says:

      Pretty sure you mean city of Millersburg, not city of albany. Or maybe you’re just trolling?

  10. Hartman says:

    20-minute bus service between Corvallis and Albany, with 30-minute service in Albany and Corvallis ongoing, 6 1/2 days a week would go a long way in relieving the building stress on bridge infrastructure. If you build more bridges you only get more traffic.

    To continue to promote past practices, ie:build more bridges, is the definition of insanity. When will privileged, spoiled First World citizens understand that the status quo is shifting and rather dramatically.

  11. Bill Kapaun says:

    Another option would be to reverse the traffic flow on 1st & 2nd. Provide an unencumbered “left turn only” lane from the bridge to 1st.

  12. Drew S says:

    I believe increasing the green lights time on Ellsworth even for 20 seconds from 1st to Pacific overpass between the hours of 4 PM & 6 PM along with signage prior to the bridge I-5/Pacific Blvd right lane would help the traffic congestion. The walk signal on 2nd & Ellsworth is a major issue for safe steady traffic flow also. I’ve lived in north Albany for 27 years and its only going to get worse. Some folks in N Albany travel to Corvallis to shop and go out to eat because of this problem. I hope it gets figured out sooner than later.

  13. Andrea S says:

    A right turn lane from the bridge going into Albany onto 1st could help a little. Traffic is regularly held up by pedestrians crossing there, and a right turn lane would allow the main traffic to flow unencumbered.

    One issue would be that to make room for a right turn lane, the main lanes would need to shift left at that intersection. I don’t know if that would create a new bottleneck.


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