Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 7.19.07

Bridge Beautiful
Plan for concrete span lacks character

Was a precedent set when the most recent bridge built (to last) in the metro area was designed with the environment and aesthetics in mind?

Eugene’s DeFazio pedestrian/bicycle bridge, which opened in May of 2000, is a graceful structure suspended above the Willamette River with no supporting intrusions into the waterway. Congressman Peter DeFazio did not receive enough praise for getting this bridge built.

It’s not too late to call and thank him — especially if you add that you want the next Interstate-5/Willamette River bridge, scheduled for construction from 2010 through 2012, to be just as beautiful as it frames the river from Eugene on the west and Springfield to the east. DeFazio chairs the House Highways and Transit subcommittee, and he ought to hear from constituents with a vision.

We need an aesthetically significant bridge crossing the Willamette to make a unique statement about this community.

Right now nothing calls to I-5 drivers between the 30th Ave. interchange and the McKenzie River. Malls, sound walls and housing tracts all turn their backs to the freeway. Crossing the Willamette at night, you can barely sense you’ve passed over a river.

Imagine a scaled-up version of the DeFazio bridge, its angular superstructure rising above the bridge deck, making the point that you’ve arrived in the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area — or better yet, that you live here.

This is precisely the reason for the Oregon Department of Transportation to design and build a memorable structure. The bridge bisects the second largest urban area in Oregon. Other freeway bridge upgrades in the valley are in more rural settings.

Adding character to the I-5 bridges being built over the McKenzie would be a logical complement to a quest to make the Eugene-Springfield end of the valley instantly and permanently identifiable for travelers, but the focal point obviously is what will eventually span the Willamette.

While ODOT has budgeted $180 million for a new Willamette crossing, $110 million of this is devoted to dismantling the two existing bridges, mitigating construction wear and tear to the parkland north of the river and safely diverting bicycle and pedestrian traffic along the vital north bank non-motorized commute route.

None of ODOT’s current “bridge types” shown to the public is worth the effort of building. While they reduce the number of pillars in the river, they offer nothing from the bridge deck upward except one absurd example that features a girder bonnet — reminiscent of the Ferry St. bridge’s superstructure — over Franklin Blvd., followed by the same kind of concrete wasteland as the existing bridges on the rest of the crossing.

While there have been reports of local elected officials lobbying DeFazio for more funds to build a beautiful bridge, the congressman and ODOT must hear the voices of the public. ODOT has acknowledged every communication from citizens supporting a Kalapuya Indian name for the bridge — a wonderful idea. There isn’t much time left to tell DeFazio and ODOT that we will benefit from a bridge design as innovative as giving it a Native American name.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio can be reached at,and 541-465-6732.

ODOT’s I-5/Willamette website is

David Sonnichsen is a member of the ODOTI-5/Willamette bridge Community Advisory Group.