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New bridge would connect east, west Nevada Street

The city of Ashland hopes to build a $5.5 million bridge across Bear Creek to join east and west Nevada Street, providing access for the Bear Creek Greenway to continue past the dog park and follow the creek to North Mountain Park.

The city already has $2.5 million in hand — $1 million from system development charges and $1.5 million from a Surface Transportation Fund federal grant — and has retained former state legislator Al Densmore to lobby during the 2017 state legislative session for the remaining $3 million.

The bridge would become an important transportation route connecting Oak Street and North Mountain Avenue for safe, two-lane access to Helman Elementary School and Eagle Mill Road, says city Public Works Director Mike Faught.

A simple bridge may have joined Nevada Street long ago, but it was wiped out by the 1974 flood, says Ashlander Tom Foster of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation. Aerial photos from the 1950s don’t show the bridge, however, he said.

If the old bridge did exist and it was washed away, “we could go after a whole different pot of money,” perhaps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Foster says. He asks anyone with old photos or memories of the earlier bridge to contact him at 541-552-2411 or by email at faughtm@ashland.or.us.

The bridge would be elevated to maintain the grade of Nevada Street, and would have two vehicle lanes, bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways. Nevada Street is now a dirt road between Oak Street and Bear Creek. It is paved as it rises on the east side toward Mountain Meadows Retirement Community.

The Nevada Street Bridge would allow the Greenway to continue past the dog park and connect  to Riverwalk and North Mountain parks.

“The Greenway is pretty much complete on the north end (Central Point).” says Foster. “We did Talent to the dog park in 1998 and now it’s time for this part.” He said it would be followed later with a section between North Mountain Park to Willow Wind School. The ultimate destination is at Emigrant Creek by the Ashland airport.

Talk occasionally pops up about a third Ashland interchange, feeding to Mountain Avenue, but Faught says Oregon Department of Transportation officials told him the distances between Ashland’s two interchanges aren’t long enough.

“This (Bear Creek) bridge,” Faught says, “is a great idea, an important connection and good alternate route. It’s estimated to remove 117 vehicles a day from North Main and forms a good transportation route.”

Engineering on the bridge will be done in the next six months, he says, with completion projected for 2018.

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

Tom Foster of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation stands on East Nevada Street near where a connecting bridge over Bear Creek is proposed. Photo by John Darling