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Council kills Nevada Street vehicle bridge plan

ASHLAND — The East Nevada Street Bridge, which would have created a full vehicle bridge over Bear Creek between Oak Street and North Mountain Avenue, has been killed by the Ashland City Council — but the possibility of a pedestrian and bike bridge remains alive.

Transportation Commission Chair Sue Newberry said the commission does not recommend the bridge after reviewing the traffic models and concluding that, “The bridge did not shift away traffic from the main streets.” One of the primary justifications for the $6.5 million project was to create another throughway for commuters."

The other thought was that the bridge would create a way for emergency vehicles to get in and out of the area. Newberry said the auto bridge is not needed for that either. “There was not a significant improvement in emergency response if the bridge is built," she said. "It’s not going to be of crucial importance.”

What councilors and residents agreed upon is the idea of connecting the neighborhood. “This area has been called the biggest cul-de-sac in Ashland. Ashland does not allow cul-de-sacs,” said Councilor Mike Morris, who suggested it’s important that all streets intersect and connect. “Because a group organizes and comes forward saying they don’t want a bridge, we are going to let them decide for the rest of the city?”

Other councilors and citizens agreed the area should be connected, but opted instead for a pedestrian and bike bridge with enough room for emergency vehicles. “I really think there should be a bridge over Bear Creek,” said Councilor Rich Rosenthal. “I would have liked to see the substitute pedestrian bridge as the option.

The scaled-down bridge remains on the table. Public Works Director Mike Faught told councilors Tuesday their vote against an auto bridge does not take the small, 12- to 14-foot-wide pedestrian bridge out of play. He suggested the $1.5 million transportation grant the city obtained for the project be moved to creation of Independent Way, which would connect Washington Street and Tolman Creek Road. The Independent Way project has already been approved. “The (East Nevada pedestrian) project doesn’t go away. We just use the funding for Independent Way rather than borrowing money for that. Then if we want a bridge over Nevada Street, we can borrow the money to do it. It doesn’t go away,” Faught said.

The $1.5 million dollar grant comes from a federal Surface Transportation Fund, which Faught believes can be moved to the Independent Way project.

The East Nevada Street bridge as a vehicle bridge project has received passionate opposition from numerous neighborhood residents, many who live on wider, older streets without sidewalks and fear an increase in traffic and speeds would change the nature and safety of their neighborhood.

“What Mike (Faught) said swayed me,” said Councilor Greg Lemhouse. “I voted for this on the promise we could have both.”

Ultimately, the council moved away from the auto bridge on east Nevada, with Mayor John Stromberg breaking a 3-3 tie.

The citizens group fighting the auto bridge supported the council’s decision. “ONE MILLION thanks to all of you who pitched in and worked so hard over the last 18-24 months to kill the E. Nevada (auto) Bridge over Bear Creek,” wrote Susan Hall to those who opposed the bridge. “It was a Herculean effort with everyone contributing vital energy and attention in whatever way you could. This was truly a 'Village' victory.”

Also Tuesday, the council approved a plan for the YMCA to take over the 6.5 acres currently known as YMCA Park for their soccer and outdoor programs. The Y will pay the city $488,000 to compensate the city for the costs of installing a parking lot, bathrooms and a playground. The land previously belonged to the Y, which deeded it to the city at no cost in exchange for Ashland Parks & Recreation maintaining the park with the idea it would be accessible to the public when not used for Y programs. As Y programs have grown through the years, public access to the park has diminished.

The maintenance cost of up to $50,000 per year will now be assumed by the YMCA.

Ashland Parks & Recreation will develop 3 nearby acres into a community park with playground, parking and restrooms.

Only one person objected, Ron Roth, who testified before the council that they might have had a more open process about the exchange. “The area would have been perfect for affordable housing,” he said, and the public might have urged consideration had it had more time to be part of the discussion.

Mayor Stromberg thanked him for his input and suggested that would be something they would further consider in future decisions.

—Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.