By Bill Rautenstrauch
Vemco of Enterprise used cranes Monday to place sections of a bike-pedestrian bridge across the Grande Ronde River at Riverside Park. Bridge construction is part of Phase One of the La Grande-Island City greenway project. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH - The Observer
The La Grande-to-Island City greenway project took a big leap forward Monday, as cranes neatly dropped three sections of a bike-pedestrian bridge into place at Riverside Park.
The bridge, spanning the Grande Ronde River, links the park with the first stretch of the greenway being built on the south side of the river. It was supposed to be put in place Saturday, but logistics got in the way.
“There were six semi trucks loaded with bits and pieces of bridge,” City of La Grande Parks and Recreation Director Mark Touhey said Monday as he watched crews at work. “There was a lot of coordinating to do, and that’s why the schedule was a moving target.”
A greenway along the Grande Ronde River from Island City to La Grande has been a cherished dream of community leaders for decades. They see it as an attraction that can be used and enjoyed by local people and visitors alike.
In 2008, Island City used multiple grants to buy about 20 acres of land below the Highway 82 railroad bridge. Long-term plans at the Island City end call for a trail system for bikes and pedestrians, a catchable fish pond, interpretive signage and more.
Last year, the City of La Grande was awarded an $841,000 Oregon Department of Transportation grant for the first phase of the greenway project at the La Grande end. In-kind contributions from the city itself, Union County, Island City and others bring the total Phase One cost to $938,000.
“The bridge was the most expansive component, and the grant gave us the opportunity,” Touhey said.
Phase One work began in June, with crews clearing brush and debris off the south bank of the river and starting construction of a quarter-mile stretch of paved pathway paralleling May Lane.
Touhey said many partners have helped with Phase One, including workers from the Oregon Youth Authority’s RiverBend transitional facility. They were instrumental in the massive clean-up effort on the south side that included the removal of six tons of scrap metal.
“We did an awful lot of junk clearing,” Touhey said.
City of La Grande crews cleared brush, and Union County is laying the base for the paved pathway. Local companies including Mt. Emily Rock, Rogers Asphalt, R.D. Mac and Royal Rock, donated rock for the Phase One work.
Key Construction out of Bend is the lead contractor for Phase One. Vemco out of Enterprise brought cranes to La Grande to drop the bridge in place.
Touhey said completion of the whole greenway, from La Grande to Island City, is far off in the future. He said the project is meant to provide the public safe access to the river and its views.
“In the end, it will be a nice, level paved path for the public to use. There will be some linkage between communities for people who want to ride their bikes or walk to the store,” he said.
Touhey said there is more work to be done before the bridge and pathway along May Lane are open for use.
“We’re not sure if we’re going to open it this fall,” he said. “We’ll see how far we get. There’s still some hazards to the public.”
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