A proposal brewing in the legislature would try to involve Linn or Benton County in the planning and financing of a third Willamette River bridge in Salem.
State Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, announced the idea on Friday in a press release issued by his Capitol office. He said he had introduced a bill, HB 2974, that would authorize the formation of a bridge district covering the “Capital City Region” consisting of Linn, Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties.
As of Saturday the bill had not been made available on the legislature’s website, so its details are obscure. The Statesman-Journal in Salem quoted Evans to the effect that the text was still undergoing changes. For instance, the paper quoted the legislator that Linn County may be taken out and Benton County put in. That would make more sense, as Benton County residents are more likely than people living in Linn, on the east side of the Willamette, to cross the river to get to the capital.
Evans came out with his press release after the Salem City Council on Feb. 11 voted 6-3 to stop a 13-year planning process for a third Salem highway bridge. Some $6 million, including $5.2 million in federal highway funds, had already been spent on the project. According to press reports, cost estimates for the bridge itself, with two lanes each way, ranged upward of $400 million.
Evans said his proposed district would be allowed to levy property taxes for the purposes of planning, financing, building, operating, and maintaining bridges over the Willamette in the Capital Region. It’s not clear whether this would require elections in each county on either the formation of the district or the imposition of taxes, or both.
He didn’t say whether the district would be authorized to support bridges in places other than Salem. This would be of some interest in Albany, where there’s been years of talk but no action about planning a bridge from north Benton County to Interstate 5 via Conser Road in Millersburg.
Evans’ proposed bridge district would be governed by a five-member board, one elected from each county and one appointed by the governor or elected at large.
The Salem River Crossing project had been promoted, especially in West Salem, as a way to relieve congestion. Opponents fought it because of the disruption of street patterns and neighborhoods it would cause on the east side of the river in Marion County.
Evans said he was interested in a regional approach. “All of us who live in the Oregon Capital Region — the counties of Marion, Polk, Yamhill and Linn — should have a role in developing a sustainable infrastructure system,” he said. “This bill will give us a unique tool for a unique problem.”
Maybe not unique, exactly. Albany, though smaller, has a problem with bridge capacity too. (hh)
On Sunday, Chairman Roger Nyquist of the Linn County Board of Commissioners sent me a note: “To my knowledge, Rep. Evans has not contacted anyone from Linn County about his bill relating to bridges. I am opposed to the legislation and will recommend the Board of Commissioners take a formal position in opposition to the legislation in question at our meeting on Tuesday. All other considerations aside, the project envisioned would never make it through the current state land use laws and as such the attempt would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.”