The Seaside Improvement Commission has given new life to plans to replace the 56-year-old Avenue U bridge while putting on hold long-planned pedestrian bridges across the Necanicum River and Neawanna Creek.
The commission, which also serves as Seaside’s urban renewal agency and manages funds from the city’s urban renewal taxing district, spent months considering the pedestrian bridges.
One bridge would have crossed the Necanicum River at Avenue S and Cartwright Park, and the other at Avenue F over the Neawanna Creek.
However, both sites presented significant challenges.
The Avenue S bridge, which was estimated to cost $1.2 million, would have started on the west side of the Necanicum behind the Seaside School District’s administrative building, north of Cartwright Park. On the east side it would have dumped out into the parking lot of the Bell Buoy, which is privately owned.
“Once you start taking a look at the complications like there not being pedestrian facilities on the highway there, that when you bring people up to the highway you’ve got to get them in, around, through the Bell Buoy property, there’s not a good crossing system,” said Seaside Public Works Director Neal Wallace. “And Avenue S, at this point, doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in the way of pedestrian facilities either.”
Although there are plans to improve pedestrian facilities at Avenue S they won’t happen for some time, Wallace said.
Originally, the estimated cost for constructing the pedestrian bridge at the end of Avenue F and Neawanna Creek was listed in the city’s 2-year-old transportation system plan at $645,000 – 16 percent of the new estimate of $4 million.
Wallace said the challenges in constructing a longer, meandering bridge and the mitigation necessary at the site drove up costs after engineers did a more thorough study of the project.
“I know in the TSP they didn’t delve into much detail there,” Wallace said. “I think a lot of jaws dropped when we saw those numbers.”
The bridge would have meandered across the Neawanna and eventually connected with Wahanna Road near the entrance road to Providence Seaside Hospital.
“Once again, where the bridge would land is in private ownership — that would need to be purchased,” Wallace said. “Basically when you drop off the edge of Wahanna Road you are not just in the flood plain, you are in the flood way. You can’t put anything down at ground level on the flood way. Two reasons – one, in the winter it would be flooded. Two, anything you do in the flood way has to have a no-rise certification. Even to the point of putting pilings to support (the bridge), we’re going to have to do some kind of mitigation.”
Wallace said there were concerns about the cost and accessibility to the bridge.
The improvement commission had expected the urban renewal taxing district in the area, set to sunset in two years, to pay for the new bridges. City Manager Mark Winstanley said he thinks about $2 million may be available through the district. If the city does not use the money from the district before it sunsets, it will lose the money.
With the challenges the body was facing for the pedestrian bridges, improvement commission member Les McNary suggested at the April 3 meeting that the commission begin looking instead at using the urban renewal money to replace the Avenue U bridge.
The commission agreed.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has classified the bridge, built in 1957 and long targeted for replacement by the city of Seaside, as “functionally obsolete.” Despite that, Wallace said the yearly requests to the transportation department for money to replace the bridge have been turned down.
Wallace said the bridge never receives enough points in the scoring system used by the state to determine which transportation projects will receive funding.
Wallace and Winstanley said it is possible that the city’s willingness to contribute a substantial amount of money to the project could increase the possibility of money from the transportation department.
“The good thing from the ODOT standpoint is we’re not going to them and saying we’d really like to have a bridge done, you want to give us the money?” Winstanley said. “We’ve got a significant amount of money the agency can put towards this bridge. We’d be looking for a partner in this, not a benefactor.”
When it was included in the Seaside Transportation System Plan in 2009, the estimated cost to replace the Avenue U bridge and update the intersection with U.S. Highway 101 was just under $8 million. The projection is based off of the transportation department’s cost estimates, which generally include large contingencies, Wallace said.
The project in the transportation plan was much larger than what the commission is talking about doing, Winstanley added.
The 12th Avenue bridge, rebuilt more than 10 years ago, cost about $2.3 million. The span is longer than the Avenue U bridge and includes extra wide sidewalks and complicating factors, like a high pressure sewer line that runs across the bridge.
“There’s evidence that we could get (the Avenue U bridge) done for significantly less than $7 million or $8 million,” Winstanley said. “Getting a bridge done somewhere in the $2 million to $3 million area, that’s probably a doable situation for us.”
Even if the transportation department is unwilling or unable to contribute to the project, Winstanley said, there are other pools of money the city could pull from to contribute to the urban renewal funds.
With two years remaining before the urban renewal district sunsets, Winstanley said the project does not need to be fully built to use those funds. However, the project does need to be underway. The urban renewal agency, which will not end when the taxing district sunsets, can continue to manage the project through its completion.
“The question is, can we put the pieces together in the next two years so that this project can go forward?” Winstanley said. “At this point, I don’t have that answer.”
In the coming months Winstanley said city staff members will begin meeting with transportation department officials and working with engineers to estimate a more accurate cost for the bridge project. He thinks they will be prepared to present their findings to the commission by the fall.
The commission is also exploring the possibility of purchasing land east of U.S. Highway 101 from the Avenue U bridge to provide easier pedestrian access to Mill Ponds Park and tsunami evacuation routes.
This story originally appeared in Seaside Signal.