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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Dec. 6, 2023

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New Fruit Valley bridge to include protected bike lanes

By , Columbian staff writer
7 Photos
Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian There are no bike lanes where Fruit Valley Road crosses railway tracks and Burnt Bridge Creek, so cyclists are directed to use the whole travel lane. But that takes courage amidst car and truck traffic traveling at 35 mph or more.
Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian There are no bike lanes where Fruit Valley Road crosses railway tracks and Burnt Bridge Creek, so cyclists are directed to use the whole travel lane. But that takes courage amidst car and truck traffic traveling at 35 mph or more. Photo Gallery

Even while gripping their handlebars, local cyclists tend to cross their fingers for good luck when riding the narrow berm at the west end of Burnt Bridge Creek, and the Fruit Valley Road bridge over railway tracks. Those adjacent spots add up to a single traffic pinch point, forcing bikes to hurry up and hope for the best.

“There’s no wiggle room, and you have to be looking out for cars going 45 on a narrow roadway marked 35 mph,” cyclist Sally Butts said. Butts leads a Vancouver Bicycle Club outing that travels over that berm and bridge every Monday morning, so she knows the built-in hazards: no bike lanes, curving approaches that block visibility and truck traffic bound for the Port of Vancouver.

Butts is a “skilled and aggressive” bike rider, she said, but she worries about others on that scary stretch of road.

“If a driver is aware and courteous, that’s great; but if they want to be jerks, they can make that a really dangerous place,” she said.

The city of Vancouver’s multifaceted plan to rebuild the roadway should allow cyclists to uncross their digits and enjoy the ride. They just have to wait a few more years for state and federal funding to come together and make it happen, according to Ryan Lopossa, Vancouver’s streets and transportation manager.

Lopossa said he’s biked over the existing Fruit Valley bridge, too, and fully understands its hazards. The planned replacement bridge will be wider and include everything pedestrians and cyclists could wish for, he said, including “modern sidewalks and some kind of protected bicycle facility.”

That means bike lanes that are physically separated from the street, not just painted on shared asphalt. The lanes will either be raised higher than the rest of the roadway or enjoy some other sort of barrier from motor traffic, Lopossa said.

“On all new construction, we are moving away from roadway striping to physically separated facilities,” he said. “That’s state of the art now. When we build new stuff, you’re going to start to see that coming into play.”

(But when the city is rehabilitating or resurfacing an existing road without widening it, he added, it’ll still fall back on street striping. If there’s room, that striping will include a “buffer” lane for greater separation from motor traffic. Good examples of streets with “buffer” bike lanes are MacArthur Boulevard and Southeast 20th, west of 162nd.)


Replacing the old Fruit Valley bridge, which was built in 1946, is part of a broader west-side “megaplan” that will take years and cost as much as $100 million to complete, Lopossa said. The plan is best “broken into four or five bite-sized pieces,” he said.

Piece No. 1 is a new Fruit Valley bridge, which won’t just be wider and safer, Lopossa said. It will also divert commercial traffic farther west, onto a new 32nd Avenue extension aimed directly at the Port of Vancouver and its growing industrial park.

That industrial park is already reaching north along a new 32nd Avenue segment between Lower River and La Frambois roads. When it’s finished, the new avenue will run roughly parallel to Fruit Valley Road, continuing north and curving east to meet the new bridge, Lopossa said.

“The lion’s share of traffic on that road will head straight to the port,” Lopossa said, serving an industrial area that’s expected to see more development and job growth in coming years. “Fruit Valley Road will ‘T’ in and become more of a secondary street” leading to the local school and residential Fruit Valley neighborhood, he said.

The Fruit Valley bridge replacement “can be a standalone” costing an estimated $40 million, Lopossa said. Completing the whole 32nd Avenue extension and its connectors is estimated at another $36 million.

Widening the roadway atop the Burnt Bridge Creek berm with separated bike lanes and sidewalks will cost another estimated $9 million. City engineers are “pretty sure we can put in some vertical reinforcing” to support that, Lopossa said, rather than having to add new fill and rebuild the whole berm, which would be much more complicated and expensive, he said.

The traffic signal at 78th Street will likely be replaced with a constantly flowing traffic roundabout, Lopossa said. That will be a partnership project with Clark County, with the cost estimated at $2 million.

When does this “megaplan” get paid for and built? Planners expect to “start chasing grant dollars in earnest” next year, Lopossa said, and construction could get underway within five years. One thing that could slow it all down is the passage of state ballot measure I-976, he said, limiting car license tab fees and local transportation agencies’ ability to raise and spend those dollars.

Meanwhile, according to city data, the car collision rate along Fruit Valley is low and the bike-accident rate almost nonexistent. It may be a scary stretch, but the cyclists who attack it appear to be “skilled and aggressive,” like Butts, and few drivers there are behaving like jerks.

“I did a quick data search and didn’t see any problems out there,” Lopossa said. “I think folks are using the care that’s needed.”

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