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/
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)