The Bend Park & Recreation District plans to construct a footbridge spanning the railroad tracks in southeast Bend, a bridge that would be the first of its kind anywhere in the city.
Last week, the district’s board gave the OK to purchase a vacant lot in a neighborhood just west of the tracks.
Just over 100 feet to the east of that lot is the future site of Alpenglow Community Park, which itself is just north of where Bend-La Pine Schools plans to build a new high school and a new middle school.
Ian Isaacson, designer with the park district, said the current plan is to build the bridge between the lot and the park during construction of the park, currently slated to begin in early 2019.
There are currently no dedicated pedestrian rail crossings in the city. Tunnels that pass beneath the tracks at the Third Street, Franklin Avenue and Greenwood Avenue underpasses are as close as it gets locally.
Isaacson said the bridge is likely to be a single-span structure similar to two recent park district bridge projects spanning the Deschutes River — the bridge at First Street Rapids Park, and the bridge at Farewell Bend Park that replaced an aging, lumber mill-era span.
Because the bridge would cross the tracks, BNSF Railway has a say in its ultimate design.
Isaacson said BNSF wants some kind of enclosure on the bridge deck to keep people from throwing items at passing trains, and wants the bottom of the bridge to be at least 26½ feet above the tracks.
In the area of the proposed bridge, the tracks run through a small notch in a rock ridge. Isaacson said it’s presumed the notch was blasted out as part of the original railroad construction, and as a result, the tracks sit about 16 feet below the high point of the ridge.
By placing the bridge on that rock ridge, Isaacson said it should be possible to limit the incline of the approaches to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF, confirmed in a voicemail message that discussions with the district are underway.
In the event the park district and BNSF cannot come to an agreement, the seller of the lot purchased by the district has agreed to buy back the lot at the same price the district has agreed to pay: $120,325. Isaacson said it’s too soon to accurately estimate the cost of building the proposed bridge.
Isaacson said the district has recently started high-level planning for Alpenglow, and plans to share its initial concept drawings with the public at a meeting in late January or early February. More refined designs should be available to the public sometime next summer.
The proposed bridge sits a short distance south of where the city expects, eventually, to extend Murphy Road through to Southeast 15th Street.
City councilor Barb Campbell, a frequent advocate for pedestrian and cyclist amenities, said the bridge could help provide an east-west route in a part of the city where such routes are lacking.
Although it is possible to cross the tracks on foot, it’s technically considered trespassing and is potentially dangerous. Using official crossings and existing roads, the trip from the lot purchased by the district to the future park site is 2½ miles by way of Reed Market Road to the north, or about 2 miles via Brosterhous and Knott roads to the south.
Campbell said given the anticipated cost, she doesn’t expect the city will be ready to greenlight the Murphy Road project in the near future.
“Murphy is really just this all-or-nothing thing,” she said. “We have to get over the tracks, and that is going to be hugely expensive.”
For purposes of comparison, the city’s 2012 bond measure allocated more than $18 million to rebuild Reed Market Road between Third Street and 27th Street — at the time, it was estimated adding an overpass where Reed Market Road crosses the cracks would have doubled the cost of the project.
Campbell said the sense that Bend’s west side and east side are very different places is at least in part the result of physical barriers such as the railroad tracks, the Deschutes River, the Parkway and Third Street, all of which complicate travel for drivers and non-drivers.
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