The writing is on the wall as regards the eventual demise of the Salem River Crossing, a.k.a. Third Bridge.
Or rather, the writing is in the form of a motion to be made by Mayor Chuck Bennett at next Monday's City Council meeting to form a Council task force "to evaluate options for reducing traffic congestion and improving vehicular mobility around the Marion and Center Street bridges."
Download CITY OF SALEM - File #: 17-545
It seems clear that this is how the Third Bridge will begin to die after opponents were successful in getting the Land Use Board of Appeals to remand approval of an Urban Growth Boundary expansion needed for the bridge back to the City Council. In other words, that expansion was negated, and the City of Salem basically needs to start over.
Since five opponents of the Third Bridge now make up a majority on the nine-member City Council, planning for a new bridge is going nowhere fast. Hence, the staff report on Bennett's motion has some face-saving language that, nonetheless, essentially says the Salem River Crossing isn't going to die quickly with a bang, but slowly with a whimper.
Here's the "Summary and Background" section of the staff report.
Over the past decade, regional transportation experts, City staff, and the community have been considering options and alternatives related to a new Willamette River crossing. The process has been lengthy and controversial. When completed, the process will yield a Final Environmental Impact Statement for a new facility, not the facility itself. We understand that even with a Final EIS in place, it may take another decade or more to fund, design, and begin construction of a new bridge.
In the meantime, congestion and vehicular mobility continue to plague the downtown and inner west Salem areas around the existing bridges. There is a need to address vehicular mobility and traffic congestion immediately and independent of decisions related to the Willamette River crossing. If approved by Council, the charge of the Task Force will be to study the issues and develop a list of short-, medium-, and long-term projects and a funding strategy that-when implemented-will reduce traffic congestion and improve vehicular mobility.
While acknowledging the importance of improving non-vehicular modes of transportation-including pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit-and the possibility that other travel demand management measures-such as changed work hours-the work of this Task Force is to be directed primarily at identifying opportunities for improving vehicular mobility and ways to reduce vehicular congestion within the study area.
The Task Force, if authorized, will be a City Council committee. Member shall be appointed by the Mayor, pursuant to Section 22 of the Charter.
Politically, this seems like a smart move.
The five progressives on the City Council could have exercised their No Third Bridge muscle in a cruder fashion, such as by demanding that City staff put in no additional time on planning for a new bridge, nor should any City funds be spent on this.
But if the traffic congestion Task Force is approved at the November 13 meeting, and almost certainly it will be, this will set in motion forces that will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to bring the Third Bridge back to life anytime soon,
After all, if other ways to relieve rush hour congestion can be implemented more quickly and at a lower cost than a new bridge, why build the half-billion-dollar Salem River Crossing? And supporters of a Third Bridge won't be able to oppose the work of the Task Force, since their big complaint has been rush hour congestion.
They've been crying Build It Now! Well, the City Council is about to take steps to deal with rush hour congestion now. Just without building a new bridge.
Another savvy move is in the proposed scope of work regarding public involvement with the Task Force.
Public involvement in this effort will be limited to attendance at the Task Force meetings. Robust public review and comment on recommended projects and funding will be expected when the recommendations are proposed for inclusion in infrastructure plans and the Capital Improvement Program.
Ordinarily I'd be bothered by the public not being able to comment or testify at Task Force meetings. But the "build it now" Salem Bridge Solutions group has acted like jerks at West Salem Neighborhood Association meetings, and they'd do the same at Task Force meetings if given the opportunity.
So now they can just sit quietly and observe the Task Force meetings like everybody else can. If the Salem Bridge Solutions folks don't think the recommended projects are adequate to reduce congestion around the existing bridges, they can weigh in on this at a later date, as the proposed scope of work says.