February 21, 2008

There have been letters recently that support stopping the bridge project across the Willamette.

Can anyone other than me remember when the Salem population was less than 50,000? Growth will not stop simply by killing a bridge project.

In fact, what is needed now is a fourth bridge across the Willamette.

It’s funny that Portland is planning for new bridges, including a massive project across the Columbia at Interstate 5, but the Willamette crossing has 18 more months of study and hasn’t even begun to purchase right of way.

West Salem has experienced incredible growth in the last 10 years, as anyone who has sat in gridlock traffic on Wallace, Orchard Heights, Edgewater or Glen Creek NW can attest to. The morning commute can take 30 minutes to go three miles, longer if there is an accident or an icy bridge.

Traffic is not only on the main arterials, but people hoping to avoid the mess are dodging through the surface streets and neighborhoods looking to gain a few minutes. Streets that weren’t designed to handle volume are choked with speeding traffic. Some West Salem neighborhoods are petitioning for speed bumps as a result.

If the solution to the east-west traffic problems is in fact only going to be one bridge, there are other ways to help move traffic.

The city of Salem has bought the railroad bridge for a bargain price and is converting it to a pedestrian bridge. Consideration should be given to making it a one-lane bridge, inbound or outbound, to meet the needs of the commute or possibly exclusively used for mass transit.

The park-and-ride lot at Wallace and Brush College NW is but a parking lot for the apartment complex next door because buses move no faster in traffic than cars. In time, it could still be the pedestrian bridge they covet.

Another solution might be modeled after a 10-mile stretch of I-5 in Seattle. Traffic engineers could redesign the existing Center Street and Marion Street bridges so that two of the lanes on one of the bridges could be converted to inbound or outbound to meet the needs of the commute: six lanes inbound a.m. and six lanes outbound p.m.

Building and retro-fitting need to take place, but traffic is already at critical mass.

Another idea that might help is greater governmental support for flex-shifting. As a casual observer, I have noticed that on federal and state holidays, traffic is light to nonexistent, therefore a lot of the commuters must have government jobs. This may be an oversimplification, but just reporting the facts.

Additionally, traffic lights in downtown and West Salem can and should be optimized to favor the commute.

Information about the proposed changes can be obtained at www.salemriver crossing.org or at www.cityofsalem.net.

Finally, I would like to say: Support your local bridge builder and tell your elected representatives Salem needs a bridge now.

The future of automotive transportation is certainly electric, hybrid or hydrogen, with cars that are smaller and more efficient, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more of them.

Michael Devine of Salem is a registered nurse at Salem Hospital. He can be reached at mikedevine57@hotmail.com.

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