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By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The urban growth boundary (UGB) that contains sprawl in the Salem-Keizer area might be expanding, but not in a way that many in Keizer have pushed for.

The Keizer Planning Commission recommended approving an expansion of UGB to accommodate a new bridge across the Willamette River, known as the Salem River Crossing, at its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 9.

Planning commissioners forwarded a recommendation to approve the UGB expansion with a 6-1 vote. Commissioner Michael DeBlasi opposed.

If the plan gains approval from Salem, Keizer, Marion County and Polk County, the new bridge would span the Willamette River at Hickory and Pine streets in north Salem. The plans call for the annexation of 32 acres into the UGB to make way for the bridge and other connecting roads on the west side of the Willamette River.

In discussing the issue at the Keizer Planning Commission level, commissioners advocated for a long-term view of growth in the area.

“You’re building a bridge for infrastructure needed 20 years from now,” said Commissioner Hersch Sangster. “It’s not so much personal travel or commuters, it’s truck traffic.”

The bridge would create a pathway for traffic to travel across the River with relative ease from the Salem-Keizer Parkway.

Commissioners and the Keizer City Council attended a special meeting last month that brought together all of the affected jurisdictions and invited public comment. More than 60 people testified during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

Commissioner Jim Jacks said that while there was lots of testimony regarding the impact of the bridge construction, the issue at hand was the UGB expansion.

“If we recommend that the UGB be expanded tonight, it will probably be 10, 20 or even 30 years before (a bridge) gets funded. If we don’t do something now, it’s going to be 40 or 50 years from now,” Jacks said.

Despite opposing the plan, DeBlasi said he understood the need for a bridge, but that the other costs associated with it needed to be considered.

“We’re going to allow people to drive as much as they want and externalize the cost in terms of cost of roads, climate change, accidents and then costs of loss of revenue on lands to accommodate the cars,” he said. “Why not look at ways to squeeze all the efficiency out of the use of the land before we decide to approve the expansion and then build a bridge?”

He also took issue with a Keizer city staff report, which sugested that the bridge would improve employment prospects and livability in the local area.

“That seems like a giant leap,” DeBlasi said.

“The staff comment was intended to convey that a far-reaching discussion had taken place, more than editorializing,” said Nate Brown, Keizer’s community development director, and preparer of the staff report.

Commissioner Jerry Crane, a local caterer, said he plans for extra time whenever he has to cross the existing Marion Street bridge for a job, which was one factor in his support of the plan. However, he said he was most moved by testimony from a west Salem resident during the special meeting last month.

“He told us that his daughter had severe asthma and she could die if there was a problem at the existing bridge,” Crane said.

The commissioners’ recommendation will now go to the Keizer City Council, which will make the final decision regarding the city’s support on the matter.