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Advocates push for accessibility options for replacement Burnside Bridge

Multnomah County's Burnside Bridge budget crunching leaves little room for Portland's longer-term hopes.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The Portland City Council will hear testimony from Multnomah County officials and the public about the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project at its Thursday meeting. One significant point of discussion: How will pedestrians access the new bridge from the Eastbank Esplanade? 

A stairwell currently makes the connection, but it's not ADA-compliant. The county initially considered installing an elevator as part of the bridge project, but after significant debate, it appears that idea is being scrapped in favor of a ramp.

That's a win for various activists who have been pushing the county to do more with the project even in the face of significant budget cuts. 

When the Metro transportation measure (26-218) was rejected by 58% of voters last fall, which took with it substantial funding for projects big and small across the region. The Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project had to make significant design changes to save on costs. A design has not yet been finalized.

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"There's been fluffy words and planning documents for the last 30 years about how we want to have greater connection to the Willamette River," said Willie Levenson from the Human Access Project. "If we don't do this now, when are we going to do it?"

The council voted unanimously last month to spend about $20,000 to study how much the ramp option would add to the overall Burnside Bridge project budget. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, was most vocal in her support.

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“I just want to make sure that as we do it, we're not missing opportunities that would give us more options in the future.” Hardesty said, pointing to the City of Vancouver's investment in its waterfront as an example. “What they've done to their waterfront is pretty phenomenal.”

Chris McGinness is a meteorologist and transportation reporter for KGW. Got a story idea or a great photo you want to share? Email him at cmcginness@kgw.com or reach out on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram

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