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