Van Buren Bridge Project

THE ISSUES

After owning the Van Buren Bridge since 1938, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) plans to demolish the existing bridge and construct a new more seismically resilient Van Buren crossing on the site of the existing crossing.  The proposed new bridge is not intended to relieve downtown congestion.  According to the most recent area traffic study, traffic signals at Hwy 34 and the 34 Bypass intersection cause eastbound traffic delays. 

 

PreservationWORKS! and its allies maintain:

  • There are feasible and prudent – and desirable – alternatives to demolition of the Van Buren Bridge, and all possible planning to minimize harm to the property has not yet occurred.

  • Further, ODOT failed to respect previous public processes, and their own mandate for public input before deciding on a preferred course of action.

  • The project's budget line items are vague at best.  ODOT's failure to provide City Council with a range of real costs makes Council's prudent fiscal decision-making exceedingly difficult.

  • Three federal laws require ODOT to address these issues.

Thus far, ODOT has not yet addressed these matters.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

Contact decision-makers and tell them that you support saving the Van Buren Bridge as a pedestrian/bike bridge.

 

Corvallis City Council

Contact the mayor or your city council representative:

PO Box 1083, Corvallis, OR 97339-1083.

city.council@corvallisoregon.gov

Please note that all email sent to and from City Staff, the Mayor and City Council is considered public record and is available for inspection by the public.

 

Federal Highway Administration

Emily Cline 503-316-2547, Emily.cline@dot.gov.

Let the FHWA know that you want the bridge to be preserved, and that you are expecting them to fully comply with state and federal laws and conduct a full investigation of ways that the bridge can be used as a pedestrian/bike bridge.

 

Congressman Peter DeFazio (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair)

541-465-6732 (defazio@house.gov).

Let our Oregon congressman know that you want the bridge to be preserved, and that you are expecting them to fully comply with state and federal laws and conduct a full investigation of ways that the bridge can be used as a pedestrian/bike bridge.

 

Oregon State Representative Dan Rayfield

503-986-1416 or 541-740-7744, Capitol Address: 900 Court Street NE, H-275, Salem, Oregon

rep.danrayfield@oregonlegislature.gov.

Let our state representative form District 16 know that you want the bridge to be preserved, and that you are expecting them to fully comply with state and federal laws and conduct a full investigation of ways that the bridge can be used as a pedestrian/bike bridge.

 

ODOT Project Manager Region 2, Anna Henson

503-986-2639 or 971-707-2020, anna.henson@odot.state.or.us.

Let ODOT know that you want the bridge to be preserved, and that you are expecting them to fully comply with state and federal laws and conduct a full investigation of ways that the bridge can be used as a pedestrian/bike bridge.

THE LAW

Several federal laws govern the Van Buren Bridge:

  • Section 106, National Historic Preservation Act 1966 (NHPA)

Section 106 requires that each federal agency identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic resources. Under Section 106, each federal agency must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions.

  • Section 4 (f), Department of Transportation Act 1966

Section 4(f) of the Act prohibits ODOT from using land from publicly owned parks, recreation areas, wildlife and water fowl refuges, or public and private historic properties, unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative to that use and the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from such a use.

  • National Environmental Policy Act 1970 (NEPA)

NEPA established national environmental policies.  The NHPA and NEPA are two separate laws which require agencies to “stop, look, and listen” before making decisions that impact historic properties and the human environment.   ODOT has not prepared an Environmental Assessment nor the more comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement for the Van Buren Bridge project as required by law.

THE PUBLIC PROCESS

In 1993 ODOT initiated a public process resulting in community consensus to keep the Van Buren Bridge.  City Council recommending retention of the existing bridge in place as a bike/ped facility, connecting downtown riverfront with eastside parks; preservation of north-south 1st Street continuity; and other considerations. Take a look at ODOT's Van Buren Bridge Repurposing Report for more info.

 

During the 2004-06 process, again the preferred option was retention of the existing bridge in place, and continuity of 1st Street, with the final design to further investigate two alternatives for the proposed new bridge. During the limited and superficial community involvement in the 2019-20 project, ODOT justified the omission of the usual extensive stakeholder process, because they suggested that the current project relied on results of the preceding 2004-06 stakeholder process.

The 2019 re-validating of alternatives did not review all the options studied in 2004-06 and added a Jackson Street alternative that was not proposed in 2004-06.  ODOT's 2019 new bridge option parallel to the existing bridge was a different design from 2004-06 alternatives, with a much sharper turn, that became an ODOT rationale for its elimination as a preferred option.  Of the two preferred options in 2006, neither were part of the 2019 re-validating process.  As a result, the extensive public process in 2004-06 was not honored, as well as the City’s preferred option from both 1993 and 2006.  Since ODOT did not truly build upon the prior community conclusions, a new stakeholder process should have been initiated. See our response through this Letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission by Tony Van Vliet & PreservationWORKS!.

THE BUDGET

Recent City Council motions reflect their understandable frustration with being coerced into a premature decision on taking ownership of the bridge without adequate ODOT budget information.  Council first expressed their frustration at their joint work session with HRC in June 2019.  ODOT's Draft Repurposing Study presented then, estimated an initial rehabilitation cost of $12.18M, with an annual maintenance cost of $152,000.

At a July 2019 meeting with PreservationWORKS, ODOT agreed that initial rehab costs of $787,000, and $4,000 in annual maintenance were practically possible.  At the January 2020 open house, ODOT senior staff indicated that initial rehab cost range from $0-12M, depending on whatever upgrades the City selected, and $1M was available from ODOT as a result of demolition costs savings.  ODOT did not offer nor mention any of the thriftier options.  It is inappropriate for a public agency to hide and manipulate information from public officials tasked with making decisions, who must weigh public benefit with fiduciary responsibility.  It is unacceptable for ODOT to bully the City Council into making a decision without the detailed and more accurate cost information they requested.

ODOT presented the Van Buren Bridge replacement as a seismic resilient strategy for the community.  However, ODOT did not assess which bridge replacement would most benefit the region or Corvallis.  Regionally, a new North Bypass built to seismic standards would serve as a two-way route in an earthquake emergency.  Other bridges in all directions from Corvallis are likely to fail during a Cascadia event, isolating Corvallis.  Rebuilding the Marys River Bridge on 4th Street would allow the South Corvallis community access to the hospital.  The Van Buren Bridge replacement is not the best strategy for either earthquake preparedness or improved capacity.

ADDITIONAL CONCERNS

Steep Grade

The existing bridge is flat, with a gradual slope at both approaches.  The proposed bridge's steep grade is as great or greater than the Harrison Bridge grade and the switchback under the Harrison Bridge is also steep.  The Harrison Bridge is much more difficult to cross for pedestrians with limited mobility and for some bicyclists.  Currently, those who cannot manage the Harrison Bridge grade have the option of using the existing Van Buren Bridge to travel in both directions.  Ideally, preserving the current bridge as a bike/ped route would continue to provide these access benefits, and would be even wider for user-friendly, two-way bicycle and pedestrian use.

 

Approach Grades

There’s a significant difference in approach grades between the proposed bridge and the Van Buren Bridge. The proposed 5% approach grade on the new bridge runs for the length of more than two football fields, and challenges users with mobility concerns, younger and older users, and recreational cyclists.  The Harrison Bridge has a 5% approach grade westbound, and a 6% descending slope as it approaches 1st Street.  The current Van Buren Bridge’s 3% grade for the first few feet eastbound, tapers to a zero to 1% grade for two-thirds of the bridge.

 

Proposed bicycle/pedestrian access on bridge inadequate:

The bridge design presented at the January 2020 open house included a two-way bike/ped route along the north side of the replacement bridge that eliminates bike/ped access along the south side of Hwy 34. This egregious design flaw confirms the need for a stakeholder review committee to examine design options and find solutions.

Downtown Truck Traffic Increase

The existing Van Buren Bridge has height, weight and axle restrictions; a replacement bridge   at the same site will not.  Consequently, a replacement bridge will promote increased heavy truck traffic in downtown at the bridge's eastbound approach.

Overall, it appears that ODOT is giving lip-service to its obligations for preservation of historic bridges, by:

  • Restricting full examination of options that would preserve the bridge

  • Artificially limiting the timeframe for the community to develop options, and

  • Attempting to do an end-run around the federal Section 106, Section 4(f), and Environmental Impact Statement processes.

LEGAL DISCUSSION

After an undertaking – like bridge removal – is identified, federal agency stakeholders follow these four steps to fulfill Section 106 requirements:

  1. Initiate consultation by notifying appropriate consulting parties. Consultation is between the federal agency, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and other consulting parties including:  the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, certified local governments (The Corvallis Historic Resources Commission is a consulting party, PreservationWORKS! is another), and members of the general public with an economic, social or cultural interest in the project. 

  2. Identify properties that may be affected by the project – there are several including the Van Buren Bridge – and determine if the property or properties are historic as determined by eligibility or listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  (Yes, they are.)

  3. Assess the effects of the undertaking on the resources in consultation with interested parties and establish if they are adverse. (Demolition is the definition of an adverse effect.)

  4. Resolve adverse effects by developing and evaluating alternatives that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate these impacts on historic resources.  (This is a substantial issue and ODOT has failed to develop – or consider – alternatives.)

 

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

 

Requires federal agencies – or those funded with federal money – to assess whether an action potentially affects the human environment prior to making decisions.  Agencies must evaluate the environmental, social, and economic effects of proposed actions by preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Under NEPA, agencies are required to provide opportunities for public review and comment.

 

Integration of NEPA and Section 106 makes sense because: the historic properties of concern in Section 106 are one type of resource in the human environment considered in NEPA; both processes are triggered by federal funding, permits, licenses, or other approvals and share goals of providing transparency and allowing for public involvement; both processes should be initiated early in project planning when a broad range of alternatives can be considered; and, completion of both processes is needed for agencies to proceed to implement an action or undertaking.

 

Sec. 101 [42 USC § 4331]


(a) The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man’s activity on the interrelations of all components of the natural environment, declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.


(b) In order to carry out the policy, it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to the end that the Nation may —

  1. Fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations;

  2. Assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings;

  3. Attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences;
    Preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity, and variety of
    individual choice;

  4. Achieve a balance between population and resource use which will permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life’s amenities; and

  5. Enhance the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable recycling of depletable resources.

(c) The Congress recognizes that each person should enjoy a healthful environment and that each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.

THE PAST

The Willamette River is one of the most significant features of Corvallis.  Among the significant features of the Willamette River in Corvallis are its elegantly-engineered bridges, the Mary’s  River Bridge and the Van Buren Street Bridge.  The bridges embody the settlement and transportation history of Corvallis and are vital testimony to its growth as a river-sited, agriculture-based community.  The Van Buren Bridge particularly, is the historic doorway to Corvallis, and an engineering marvel that speaks to Corvallis' long and enduring role as a technological leader.

 

The November, 1912 bridge bond vote was a notable first for Corvallis women following the successful passage of the state initiative that enfranchised Oregon women.

The Coast Bridge Company constructed the Van Buren Street Bridge in 1913 for Benton County.  This three-span structure is Oregon oldest swing span bridge, and the only existing pin-connected swing span truss in the state.  Originally, the draw span swung to clear 102 feet on either side by pivoting around the central pier.  The non-motorized swing mechanism operated manually on a circular track beneath the bridge deck.  Later, the mechanism to operate the swing span was removed or disabled. 

 

To open the bridge, six persons – three on a side – rotated a 17-foot long wooden “turning key” that engaged a gear mechanism under the road deck. The bridge turned on a 24-foot diameter gear with 300 teeth mounted on the central concrete pier. The entire swing span balanced on 42 steel rollers as it rotated, and it took approximately an hour to open the bridge.  Once open, 102 feet of clear passage between bridge piers allowed for passing boats.  The bridge is not only Oregon’s only remaining example of a movable bridge built with rare pin-connection technology, but also the only example west of the Mississippi.

 

$2.8 million in 2007 structural repairs included:

  • Removal of excess asphalt to lighten the dead load

  • Removal of deteriorated steel plate

  • Some steel repairs

  • High pressure water blasting of all pin connections – the first time the procedure was implemented in Oregon and likely the western US

  • Design, fabrication, and installation ODOT replacement counter eye bars unique to the Van Buren Bridge

  • Lead paint abatement

  • Paint application expected to last 30 years.

  • Application of a second primer to increase corrosion protection, a new process developed by ODOT.

 

In 2008 PreservationWORKS honored ODOT with a Historic Preservation Award for their enduring commitment to conservation of the Van Buren Bridge as a vital component in a complex intermodal transportation network.

TIMELINE OF THE VAN BUREN BRIDGE

THE PRESENT

In 2007, an ODOT spokesperson stated that removal of the historic bridge “was not an option.”

ODOT failed to pursue feasible and prudent alternatives to demolition of the Van Buren Bridge in its 2019 project development.  We have.

 

PreservationWORKS! has hired accomplished – enthusiastic – professional engineers to conduct a feasibility study to determine if:

  • The Van Buren Bridge may be slid upriver (south) to provide a bicycle/pedestrian crossing between the Riverfront Park and the Berg Natural Area on the east side of the Willamette River.

  • The historic bridge's swivel mechanism may be reactivated.  This would once again allow the bridge to swing open for any river traffic as required by the US Coast Guard and maintain the flat grade appealing to cyclists and pedestrians, instead of the steep grade proposed for the new span's bike/ped lane.

This option would allow for a seismically resilient vehicular crossing, AND a more user-friendly bike/pedestrian crossing that connects two city recreation areas.

 

Further, this study – underwritten by PreservationWORKS! – for City Council's consideration will also address:

  • Location for the proposed bridge and necessary construction detour bridge

  • Work bridge location for possible dual use and cost savings for constructing new bridge and

  • Removal of the existing bridge substructure

  • Identification of navigational opening to satisfy new bridge and relocated historic bridge

  • Preliminary plan and elevation drawing(s), typical cross sections and other

relevant details for the 3-span truss historic bridge and approaches

  • A cost estimate for a long-term solution for the successful relocation of the historic

structure consistent with the requirements of involved resource and regulatory

agencies

  • A cost estimate of the move and repurposing of the bridge to include:

a. Estimated cost of demolition of the existing bridge, including river piers,

trusses and approaches (needed for cost comparison studies),

b. Estimated cost of new drilled shaft river piers,

c. Estimated cost of moving three span river trusses upstream to new location,

d. Estimated costs for retrofitting the existing superstructure for a bike/ped

facility,

e. Estimated cost for new approach connections to the existing bike paths on

each side of the river,

f. Estimated cost of annualized maintenance for a 30-year cycle of repainting

and other routine maintenance.

 

The Corvallis City Council graciously provided additional time to determine if feasible and prudent alternatives exist, before reaching a final decision on bridge ownership.

THE FUTURE

Corvallis prides itself on innovation, cutting edge technology, and engineering. The iconic Van Buren Bridge is the vanguard of our creativity and hallmark of our ingenuity. Treating it well, honors the best in ourselves.

© 2020 by PreservationWORKS
P.O. Box 1474
Corvallis, OR 97339

info@presworks.org

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