Lawmakers Look At New Bridge Over Willamette River

Salem, Ore. — Advocates for a new Willamette River crossing in the Salem area are renewing their efforts as State Representative Kevin Mannix sponsors House Bill 2137. The bill aims to establish a task force to explore the construction of a bridge north of Keizer, outside the urban growth boundaries of Salem and Keizer.

The need for additional river-crossing options in the mid-Willamette Valley has been a longstanding concern, with issues such as traffic congestion and public safety being major factors. Proponents of the bridge, including Marion and Polk county commissioners and transportation engineers, have been pushing for exploration into additional crossing options.

Currently, the nearest crossings south of Salem are the two-lane Independence Bridge, which has experienced significant congestion in recent years, and the bridge near Newberg to the north. The Wheatland and Buena Vista ferries are the only other options between Albany and Newberg, resulting in limited crossing opportunities.

Rep. Kevin Mannix believes that the Salem City Council’s decision should not hinder the broader need for another river crossing. By sponsoring House Bill 2137, he seeks to initiate discussions beyond Salem and Keizer, aiming for a state-focused approach to address the transportation issue. The task force, if established, will explore potential crossing locations such as Wheatland or even further north, potentially affecting communities like Woodburn, Hubbard, Gervais, St. Paul, and Donald.

Mannix emphasizes that this is a state transportation issue, with implications for commerce, agriculture, and community connections. He argues that the bridge is necessary to provide alternative routes for I-5 traffic heading west towards the coast, reducing congestion in Salem while benefiting other areas like Newberg and Independence.

Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope echoes the sentiment, expressing the frustration experienced by area residents due to limited crossing options. Pope states that Polk County supports HB 2137 and urges the legislature to consider the broader needs of the mid-Willamette Valley community.

Similarly, Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano previously expressed a desire to move the project outside of Salem following the city council’s dissent. The current board of commissioners in Marion County also expresses collective support for HB 2137, highlighting the need to alleviate traffic congestion and improve travel options in the region.

House Bill 2137 proposes the establishment of a task force consisting of members from districts within 30 miles of the Wheatland Ferry, appointed by the governor. The task force would be responsible for conducting research, evaluating feasibility, and providing recommendations by December 2023.

The bill declares an emergency, emphasizing the urgency to address the public peace, health, and safety concerns associated with the lack of adequate river crossings. If passed, the task force’s findings and recommendations will play a crucial role in shaping the future of the Willamette River crossing discussion.

(This story contains reporting from the Woodburn Independent.)