Due to growing concerns about security, the Astoria-Megler Bridge will close to vehicle traffic during the popular Great Columbia Crossing on Oct. 14.
The extra precautions come, in part, with the rise of vehicles being used as weapons to plow into crowds around the world. But there are other safety issues, as well. The narrow span provides little room for cars or people to get out of each other’s way if a distraction or a medical problem causes a driver to lose control, said Lou Torres, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
It will be the first time organizers have completely closed the bridge to vehicles for the 10K event. The Great Columbia Crossing attracts thousands of runners and walkers each year and, last year, drew more than 2,000 participants. Already, the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, which coordinates the event, reports the number of people signing up early is ahead of last year.
Local law enforcement have pushed to close the bridge to vehicles during the event for a long time, Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding said.
“We understand the repercussions and the traffic backups and everything but for us, if there was a bad incident, we would have a hard time explaining why we didn’t close the bridge,” he said.
The chamber is happy to comply.
“There is a question of safety,” David Reid, the chamber’s executive director, said. “It’s no longer safe for pedestrians and cars to be in the same place.”
Reid said many cars drive back and forth during the event each year, restricted to a single lane and following a pilot car, but still in close proximity to participants.
He and Torres both believe the closure will make for a better, safer event — not just for the runners and walkers, but also for the volunteers and flaggers posted along the route. The chamber and ODOT plan to get word out early about the bridge closure to ensure no one is unexpectedly stuck on either side.
ODOT fields numerous requests to close bridges or roads for many different kinds of events, from a pet parade down a street in a small town to a bicycle ride over Portland’s Fremont Bridge.
“We basically want to say ‘yes,’ but we also want to work with the community to address the potential negatives,” Torres said.
The Great Columbia Crossing, for all the logistics involved, has always been a fairly reasonable request, scheduled to take place on a sleepy weekend morning in October when tourism is at a low point.
But, Torres added, “We’re in a different world today.”
“I think (the Great Columbia Crossing) could be a pretty good example of an event that went through some changes because of events happening out in the world today,” he said.
Registration information for the event is at www.greatcolumbiacrossing.com/about/registration. Race registration is $40 per person. Optional t-shirts are $15 to $17 each.