Commuters, rejoice! Well, maybe. A bill being considered in the Oregon Legislature, Senate Bill 1021, would add a southbound auxiliary lane to Interstate 5 on Boone Bridge between French Prairie and Wilsonville, addressing one of the most critically congested parts of the entire I-5 corridor.
Every single day, over 130,000 vehicles cross over Boone Bridge. That’s slightly less than the Columbia River Crossing between Portland and Vancouver, but the Boone Bridge traffic counts include 33 percent more trucks than the CRC. As State Rep. Christine Drazan noted during a public hearing on SB 1021 yesterday, at least some of those trucks originate at the Pioneer Industrial Park right here in Canby.
Boone Bridge is the only Willamette River crossing for a 28-mile stretch, and the congestion is compounded by the fact that there are three closely spaced exits in that area: 282A (Canby/Hubbard) and 282B (Charbonneau) on the south side, and 283 (Wilsonville) to the north.
Traffic back-ups at this regional choke point are common during commute hours and Sunday evenings, extending five to ten miles in either direction from Boone Bridge. The congestion typically lasts for four and a half hours daily, and the average speed during these periods is a blistering 25 miles per hour.
And, according to a 2018 study by the Oregon Department of Transportation and the city of Wilsonville, these numbers are only going to get worse, as population and employment continues to increase in the Portland metro area and North Willamette Valley.
Adding the one-mile southbound auxiliary lane was recommended as the most feasible and cost-effective solution in that 2018 study. SB 1021 would also add a second I-5 turn lane to the Canby exit, which also recommended by the study. According to that report, these simple changes will result in speeds staying about 50 mph during peak traffic.
The bill would also allocate funding to seismically upgrade the 65-year-old Boone Bridge, to ensure the critical river crossing remains passable after a catastrophic earthquake.
The proposal is popular among the public, according to a poll conducted by the city of Wilsonville. Over 90 percent of Wilsonville’s workforce commutes from outside the city, including more than 3,000 from Canby and unincorporated Clackamas County.
It also has the support of folks who don’t always see eye-to-eye, including Bruce Bennett, president of the Aurora Airport Improvement Association, and Ben Williams, of the land use advocacy group Friends of French Prairie.
“The proposed bill would address the capacity and traffic flow problems caused by the constricted lanes on the Boone Bridge and seismically upgrade the bridge as well,” Williams said. “Local residents and local farmers going to market have to daily contend with delays due to extensive traffic weaving between lanes that cause slow-downs and accidents; the addition of an auxiliary lane provides more space for drivers to merge or change lanes in a safer manner.”
Bennett, speaking on behalf of the airport association, agreed and said: “Although the airport now, and in the future, contributes only a fraction of a percentage of the daily volume of the heavy traffic across the bridge, the surrounding communities both north and south of the Willamette River are growing very quickly and adding homes. Most recently, Charbonneau applied for an additional 48 homes. All of this growth contributes to the major traffic issue and the huge delays as well as safety concerns that it creates. ODOT must address the issue and this bill would move the conversation forward.”
The cost of such a project is not immediately clear. The city’s report placed estimates in the $80 million range, not including seismic work. A proposed amendment to the bill would include a $3.5 million allocation from the state’s general fund, but this would be for only an initial study and preliminary engineering work.
SB 1021 is scheduled for a work session on Monday.
Photo courtesy the city of Wilsonville.