‘Leach bridge’ now closed – for years!

See why there’s no quick-fix for the 122nd Avenue Bridge that separates Leach Botanical Garden from its parking lot. A handy map here will help guide your way …

At the bottom of the hill, where SE 122nd Avenue passes by the main entrance to Leach Botanical Garden, this outer East Portland bridge over Johnson Creek will remain closed not for months, but for years – awaiting replacement.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Many visitors earlier this year were surprised to find that the bridge near the front gate Leach Botanical Garden was closed to vehicles – because it’s the bridge that stands between the main entrance and the parking lot.

In our February 12, 2016 article about the bridge’s closure, ‘Leach Garden’ bridge closed for repair (CLICK HERE to read it), officials told East Portland News they expected this bridge to be closed for repairs only through the end of March. These were damages caused by the December 7, 2015 “flood”.

Most folks think that Multnomah County owns and operates street bridges. But, in fact, this is one of 156 bridges owned by the City of Portland.

With the ground scoured away by the December Johnson Creek flood, Portland Department of Transportation crews have been working to stabilize the SE 122nd Avenue Bridge piers to prevent further erosion.

On April 13 Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) officials revealed that this bridge – thought to have been built in the 1930s, and updated in 1956 – would eventually have to be demolished, with a new free-span bridge structure built in its place.

“The storm delivered enough of a blow, and we feel strongly that – for public safety – we need to rebuild the structure, bringing it up to modern standards for community safety, in access for everyone,” remarked PDOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera, while touring the site.

Below the SE 122nd Avenue Bridge, PDOT spokesman Dylan Rivera points out some of the temporary fixes that will keep the bridge safe for pedestrians – but not for cars and trucks – until it can be removed and replaced.

“Below the deck, it’s clear to see that a variety of ‘structural Band-Aids’ have been applied to it over the decades; repairing this bridge is not realistic,” revealed Rivera.

Bridge closed for three years
But now, instead of the bridge being closed to motor vehicles for a few weeks, Rivera said it will be closed off to cars and trucks for at least three years.

“Federal funding that we depend on for capital improvements of this nature is allocated in three-year cycles; the funds are not available now,” Rivera explained.

With its supports currently being held together by pegs, bolts and steel bands, this crossing will be replaced with a free-span bridge, with no piers in Johnson Creek.

PBOT is likely to get a federal grant for $2.5 million, which requires a city matching contribution of $300,000. The earliest that funds will be available in 2017, Rivera said. “Both the new bridge structure and the site have to be designed.

“We’ll need to work with federal and state partners to make sure we’re doing right by the environment, and doing right by the fish in the stream,” Rivera continued. “It’s a complex project, and something of this magnitude takes time to accomplish.”

Hopefully, these temporary repairs will at least allow the bridge to be used by pedestrians and bicycles until it is demolished altogether.

Because this segment of SE 122nd Avenue is a narrow, twisting two-lane rural road, seeing about 2,000 vehicles a year, it’s not a major crossing.

“But, this is a pivotal access point for Leach Botanical – a major destination here in outer East Portland, and a real community asset,” Rivera said.

Having the bridge out between their parking lot and main gate is inconvenient, says Leach Botanical Garden Executive Director David Porter.

Leach Botanical Garden Executive Director David Porter was also along for the tour. “Events and [facility] rentals provide about a third of our funding; our first wedding of the season is coming up this very weekend.

“Having the bridge out hasn’t affected us dramatically,” Porter told East Portland News.  “It is clear that people are struggling a little trying to figure out how to get to our parking lot, on the south side of the bridge. This parking lot is the essential parking facility during weddings and other events that we host here.”

David Porter and Dylan Rivera show artwork for directional signs intended to guide visitors into the Leach parking lot, from the “back way”.

To help visitors find the “back way” to the Leach parking lot, PDOT will be putting up 36” x 42” signs directing them from SE Foster Road, south onto 110th Drive/SE 112th Avenue to SE Flavel Street, east to SE 122nd Avenue, and north to SE Brookside Drive and the parking lot.

Looking ahead, to when the bridge is demolished, Porter commented, “We will have to come up with a new place to put cars. We may accelerate building and parking in [the area under development] above.

“I’m a believer that most things work out for the best,” Porter remarked, putting a brave face on an otherwise difficult situation.

This map shows two routes to the Leach parking lot.

April 28 122nd Avenue Bridge Open House
From 7:00 until 8:00 p.m. PDOT is hosting an open house to provide information about the semi-permanent closure of this bridge to motor vehicle traffic. For more information on the open house, contact Cevero Gonzalez, 503-823-5080 or cevero.gonzalez@portlandoregon.gov.

It’s at the Leach Botanical Gardens Manor House, located at 6704 SE 122nd Avenue. But, be sure to come in from SE Flavel Street at SE 122nd Avenue – because the bridge to the parking lot from SE Foster Road is closed to cars!

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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