Oregon Street bridge project delayed–for six years

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Remember that heated debate we were having last year about the Oregon Street bridge–whether it should be refurbished or  replaced with a flyover span?

Well, fuhgeddaboudit–at least for a few more years.

After an evaluation of the “financial impacts” of proposed transportation projects, it was “determined it is in the best interest of all taxpayers to delay the Jackson–Oregon Street Bridge project six (6) years,” Director of Public Works James Rabe wrote in a memo to Common Council members last week.

“The project was previously scheduled to start construction in July 2022,” Rabe said. “With this delay, the project will be scheduled to start construction in July 2028.”

The delay throws another layer of doubt into the future of waterfront development adjacent to the bridge, but Rabe said the wait could help clarify matters.

During the next six years, the city will complete the Riverwalk nearby and developers of the proposed $55 million “Morgan District” may finally move ahead with their project. “With more solid redevelopment plans, it will be possible for the bridge design team to develop design concepts that will allow the bridge to more effectively mesh with the adjacent redevelopment,” Rabe said.

In addition the “high-level fixed bridge” option will be easier for residents to understand since a similar span is expected to open this fall in Winneconne. “By the end of 2018, anyone that wants to visualize this type of bridge, need only travel twelve and a half miles” to see the State Highway 116 bridge over the Wolf River,” Rabe said.

Another option, for remote operation of a drawbridge, can also be clarified over the next few years, Rabe said. That’s because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard may have time to resolve issues that have been raised with the use of remotely operated lift bridges in Sturgeon Bay.

“This delay provides more time to understand the issues relating to remote operations of lift bridges and allows the WDOT and the USCG to develop a plan that may potentially include expanding remote operations beyond locations where they currently exist,” Rabe said.

The state has determined that the Oregon Street span is safe to use for another six years, Rabe noted. He also said the delay will give the city and other municipalities time to deal with the state’s plan to turn future maintenance costs over to local government.

Bill Bertrand, the DOT project manager for Winnebago County, said the delay decision was not based on budget issues and that a new study process will begin in about three years.

“We will revisit all improvement  alternatives and potentially develop new alternatives based on coordination with the city of Oshkosh and stakeholders,” Bertrand said.

Rabe said the city’s plans to rebuild Oregon Street will remain largely intact. The one exception is the stretch from 8th Avenue north to the bridge, which will get some attention to extend its useful life till 2028.

Although DOT has an extensive public review process for projects like this, they often do not get the public’s attention until a final decision is about to be made, at which point competing objections are often urgently raised.

“Given the nature of the discussions that were held at the May 9, 2017, Common Council meeting, I would certainly hope that the public involvement meetings are more actively attended than this past go around,” Rabe said.

Representatives of the Morgan District project were not immediately available for comment.

The illustration above is a montage of two of the design options presented last year.

 

 

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Miles Maguire

Miles Maguire is the author of Advanced Reporting: Essential Skills for 21st Century Journalism. He was the founding editor of the Oshkosh Community News Network, a nonprofit online news organization whose work was cited as a notable innovation in journalism in the 2005 Knight-Batten Awards. Send questions, comments and suggestions to miles.maguire@yahoo.com.

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