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Some neighbors oppose Bear Creek bridge project

Although Bear Creek has divided Nevada Street for generations, it appears, according to longtime residents, that there never was a bridge there. That means the upcoming construction of a $5.5 million bridge, with bike and pedestrian lanes, is not eligible for any disaster-related federal grant money.

Anecdotal tales had suggested there was a simple, two-lane bridge there in the mid-20th century that was washed away by the giant 1964 flood — and that, said Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught, might open the door for some FEMA funds. Faught’s staff examined aerial photos from the 1950s and they showed no bridge there.

Enter nursery owner Greg Williams, the developer of the aborted Verde Village on Nevada, and a resident of the Nevada neighborhood since the 1950s. He remembers no bridge, nor, he adds, does his mother, born on Nevada and now 93 — and neither does another longtime neighbor, 69.

Nearer to his home is the bridge that crosses Ashland Creek on Nevada, a bridge he finds “frustrating … because, every time it floods, it gets washed out,” says Williams, a former city councilor. “That bridge is being ignored. We’re not fixing bridges in town that were identified in a study in the early 1990s.”

The City Council on Dec. 15 voted to approve spending $35,000 to have former Medford state Representative Al Densmore lobby the legislature, governor and state agencies over the next two years, asking for $3 million needed to build the Bear Creek bridge. The city already has $2.5 million on hand from Systems Development Charges (SDCs) and a Surface Transportation Fund grant. The bridge is slated to be online by 2018.

The bridge will also become part of an extension of the Bear Creek Greenway, following Bear Creek from the Dog Park on Nevada Street to the North Mountain Park Nature Center. The bridge would cross the creek and join East Nevada Street in the North Mountain neighborhood, a development by Bear Creek, across Mountain Avenue from Mountain Meadows.

One Nevada Street neighbor, Craig Anderson, is no fan of the proposed bridge and in a letter two years ago, writing as a member of the Ashland Transportation Commission, said the project has been prompted by nearby development and doesn’t serve the city at large so developers should pay for it with SDCs, not federal or city funds.

Anderson said it’s “absurd” to call the new route an alternative bypass as, he says, it’s narrow, steep, has sharp turns (one of them blind), allows on-street parking and will only serve nearby homes.

“I challenge (you) to find anyone who lives outside the N. Mountain Plan or Mountain Meadows area or who doesn't stand to profit directly or politically from the windfall of public monies being used to fund private development. Simply put, this project is before you because inadequate funds were collected by the City from developers of the North Mountain Plan and Mountain Meadows properties," Anderson wrote in a comment about the plan he submitted to the city. "It may be justified for emergency access and other connectivity benefits that would accrue to a small pocket of the City, but it is not needed by the vast majority of the City's residents.”

In a recent email to the Tidings, Anderson says, “It is one of the most costly — and least scrutinized — public works projects ever undertaken by the city of Ashland."

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.