East Side, West Side: Proposed $6 Million Project Stirs Up Troubled Waters
Really, for as long as Ashland has been a city, Nevada Street has been divided into two portions, east and west, by Bear Creek. But a proposed $6 million bridge would connect the segments—a plan that is enthusiastically supported by developers, but has many residents worried it will forever change the nature of the quiet, residential area.
“When we bought here, we bought into a dead-end neighborhood, which was wonderful,” said Tom Marr, who has lived on the east side of the proposed bridge site for almost 25 years.
Marr was one of more than 100 concerned residents who attended the April 28 meeting held by the Ashland Transportation Commission to gather public input. Three bridge designs were presented: a bicycle boulevard with a bike lane on one side (bronze medal price tag: $5.8 million); a bridge with bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides (silver medal price tag: $6 million); and a separate vehicular bridge and bike/pedestrian bridge (gold medal tag: $6.3 million).
Yet, in spite of the significance of the proposed bridge(s) and the seismic change it could bring to Ashland, fliers that were distributed to residents in early April inviting public comment on the three plans were the first many had even heard of the proposal.
“I really don’t think the main public of Ashland is aware of what’s taking place,” Marr said. “That’s why so many people came to the meeting. It was not only standing-room-only, half the people couldn’t get in. The lobby was filled with concerned citizens.”
But, according to Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught, plans for the bridge have been in place since about 1990.
“[The plan] was updated in 2012 and moved up as a higher priority,” explained Faught. “What’s driving the project is the transportation plan. It’s not just safe routes to school. It’s transit, it’s bus, it’s the Greenway bike path extension; it’s also an internal bypass for a community. For all those reasons, it’s a high-priority project for us.”
The bridge would allow for continuation of the Bear Creek Greenway to North Mountain Park, shorten bus routes for Helman Elementary School students, facilitate access for emergency services, and enable a future city bus route.
“We looked at the need for internal bus routes within the city, that’s listed as a high priority for the future,” Faught said. “This is also consistent with RVTD’s [the Rogue Valley Transportation District’s] long-term plan.”
While Marr agreed that the bridge would provide a quicker bus route for students, he still sees more disadvantages than advantages, including that the current road is in a floodplain.
“It’s just not really designed for through-traffic at all,” said Marr. “On my side coming up Nevada Street there’s a pretty sharp curve and they couldn’t really straighten it out because there’s a rock outcrop—finally they just curved the road around it. There’s a blind corner that’s posted 15 miles per hour. On my side the beginning is a family neighborhood with lots of kids, then as you come up the hill you come into the senior retirement community. I see [the seniors] walking all around. There’s not a lot of good places for them to cross the street as it is. Adding more traffic is going to make that way worse.”
In general, public opinion seems to be heavily weighted toward a pedestrian bridge.
“The majority [at the meeting] did not want to see vehicular access. They want to see more of a pedestrian bridge,” Faught conceded. However, that public input may be spitting in the wind, as the $1.5 million federal grant already secured for the bridge might not be applicable toward a bridge that didn’t permit vehicles. “We got the grant because it’s multi-modal,” noted Faught.
In the broader picture, a car-friendly bridge fits with the Transportation Commission’s plans to reduce traffic in downtown Ashland, where parking is a known problem. Future plans include creating a bike lane and a designated loading zone on East Main Street. This would make one lane inaccessible during certain times of the day and remove about 20 parking spaces. Simple solutions such as asking employees to park farther away could make up the deficit, according to Faught.
“If we could get 100 or so employees to shift to a different spot, we just created 100 spots in downtown without having to create a parking structure,” said Faught. He emphasized that the city is considering the simplest solutions first—and that the businesses would have to be willing.
The city is also working on ways to make it easier for out-of-town visitors to find parking—even considering the possibility of a trolley. For Faught, it’s all part of creating a cohesive vision for the city’s future.
“There’s an opportunity to look at how we want our downtown to look over the next 30 years,” said Faught. “We’re going to look into all the feedback we get and try to answer all the concerns,” he assured.
The Downtown Parking Management and Circulation Ad Hoc Advisory Committee meets on the first Wednesday of the month including June 1 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street, Ashland. Each meeting includes time for public input. To comment on the Nevada Street bridge or plans for downtown Ashland, contact Mike Faught at faughtm@Ashland.or.us
This is Susan Hall RN
Please plan to come to the May 26, 2016 Ashland ( TC) Transportation Commisioin Meeting from 6-8 pm. Subject: The E. Nevada St. Bridge across BEAR CREEK..
Some vital questions need to be answered:
* Where is a recent Environmental Impact evaluation?
* Is the City aware that FEMA recently increased the flood plan under BEAR CREEK?
* Why has the public been kept in the dark about the intent of this Bridge ? Per minutes from the 1/23/14 TC meeting;
“ODOT’S modeling showed the connection shows a reduction in traffic on N. Main as well as a bypass route for the interstate.”
(Yes! Read the source minutes online at City of Ashland ! A BYPASS FROM THE INTERSTATE!?
* Why does the City keep saying this BRidge is in the (TSP) Ashlands Transportation System Plan when it is NOT? (The City Attorney has admitted as much)
* AND has “meaningful notice” ( as defined by the Oregon Land Use Law) occurred in regards to the PUBLIC right to receive notice of meetings with enough time to give input that can “influence the process” as the Law requires?? ( This has to occur all along the process, not just when the rubber stamp is about to go on a “done deal”)
We plan to get some answers and we want this to be out in the public domain and publicly discussed.
Your coverage would be most appreciated.
Call my husband, Ted Hall PE 408-839-3230
( He is a Professional Engineer with 45 years of transportation and highway experience).
Ted can supply you with a aerial view of Ashland that shows that currently all the neighborhoods are adequately able to access or be accessed by Fire, Police and Hospital/Ambulance service and the Bridge adds NO additional access NOT ALREADY present. Ask him to explain the “envelop” as pertains to road design.
Susan Hall RN
E. Nevada Bridge:
In your article above you quote Mike Faugh as saying “We got the grant because it’s multi-modal” .
I don’t think it was accurate for him to infer that the federal grant “might not be applicable to a bridge that didn’t permit vehicles”.
We believe otherwise:
We believe the $1.5 million grant for this bridge favors the pedestrian and bike design and removing the cars would most likely not reduce or cancel the grant.
Perhaps Jen , you could get the facts on this??