How dangerous is it for a pedestrian or someone in a motorized scooter to cross over the Interstate 80 bridge in Ottawa?
Ottawa’s Economic Development Director Dave Noble summed up the situation perfectly years ago:
“If you’re in a motorized wheelchair, you just pick a lane, pretend you’re a car, and go,” Noble said at that time. “It’s scary — somebody’s going to die.”
You’ve likely noticed the pedestrian traffic pattern, in which pedestrians travel up a pathway to the bridge then run to the center island, crossing multiple lanes of traffic, and follow it until they cross back and take another foot path to the other side. It reminds us of the video game Frogger, in which the player directs frogs to their homes one by one by crossing a busy road, except there’s no alligators in this real life game of risk.
When the bridge over Interstate 80 was built in 1993, there wasn’t a need to accommodate pedestrians. But with development north of Interstate 80, that’s changed.
People need to get to work, or the grocery store. And if they don’t have a vehicle, the most economical way to get to their destination is to walk or ride a bike or scooter across the busy bridge.
We’ve gotten to the point that a tragic accident is not a matter of if, but when.
For years, Ottawa council members have been discussing options and looking at plans for a standalone pedestrian bridge adjacent to the overpass. The city applied several times for federal grant funding, losing out the first couple times to several other similar bridge situations in the state where someone already has died.
But luckily, the city pushed on with applying.
The project is not cheap. The cost estimate to erect a pedestrian bridge is $2.5 million.
But this week, we learned the structure is close to reality.
The City Council approved the city paying $500,000 toward the project. That cost is coupled with a grant to pay for construction of the bridge.
City Engineer Tom Duttlinger confirmed the project is expected to begin in spring and will last for most of the year, with an expected completion in fall 2020.
The council also approved a maintenance agreement in which the city will maintain the bridge, such as snowplowing, Duttlinger said.
The project will include adding 10-foot-wide sidewalks up to the bridge stretching south to Etna Road.
The city’s $500,000 contribution to the project is money well spent. It greatly reduces the risk of someone being killed and adds to the city’s walkability score.
After years of talk, it’s a relief to see the project moving forward.