Ontario mayor sets his sights on the future with proposal to build new bridge across the Snake River

Ontario Mayor Riley Hill wants to see a new bridge built across the Snake River to link Ontario with Fruitland. (The Enterprise/FILE)

CORRECTION UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Southwest 18th Avenue as Southwest 18th Street. The Enterprise apologizes for the error.

ONTARIO – Mayor Riley Hill has a pretty big idea.

Hill wants to build a bridge from the end of Southwest 18th Avenue in Ontario over Interstate 84 and the Snake River to connect to Fruitland.

Hill said he knows his idea isn’t going to materialize soon. He already figured that into his plan. Yet Hill said he believes that to have a large infrastructure project become a reality takes years of planning.

“It won’t happen in my lifetime but if you don’t start some time you’ll never get it,” said Hill.

Hill said the bridge is needed.

“We need it for safety, for agriculture products being transported back and forth and for traffic congestion,” said Hill.

Hill said the second Snake River bridge is already part of the city’s master plan and city officials have met with representatives from the state Transportation Department and the Idaho Transportation Department about the idea.

They were willing to listen, said Hill.

The city is now preparing to apply for a federal grant to study the project, said Hill.

“I think it is very visionary. It is something that needs to happen in the long term,” said Adam Brown, Ontario city manager.

Brown said a project of such magnitude would probably take “20 years and it is down the road.”

“But somebody has to start the conversation and I think the mayor did that. Things don’t happen unless someone starts the conversation,” said Brown.

Hill said the idea for the bridge has been around for quite a while.

“It’s been talked about for years and years and people put it on the back burner and never deal with it,” said Hill.

Now Ontario and Fruitland are connected by the state Transportation Department bridge that spans the Snake River at the end of East Idaho Avenue near Walmart.

Hill’s vision would place the new bridge next to the Oregon-Idaho border about a mile and a half south from the current span.

Hill said the bridge is necessary because of Ontario’s growth and the subsequent rise in traffic congestion. He said traffic in the East Idaho Avenue area between Ontario and Fruitland is already heavy.

“I travel two or three times a week to Fruitland and if you go back and forth you run into a traffic jam. It doesn’t take much with the growth we are getting to be jammed up,” said Hill.

Tom Strandberg, Transportation Department regional spokesman, said his agency is aware of the proposal but has no plans to move ahead on the project.

“It is something certainly not considered a high priority for us,” said Strandberg.

Strandberg said such a project “would be years in the making and there would have to be some kind of support from legislators through one of the various funding programs that come through.”

“A bridge like that is a huge project and it would cost millions and millions of dollars and there are so many other needs,” said Strandberg.

Strandberg said the bridge would help the local area.

“It has merit for the city and the economy but it is just not a high priority for the state system,” said Strandberg.

Hill, though, remains undeterred. He said he knows he will probably never see the project become a reality.

“I imagine they will be digging a hole for me at the same time they are working on that bridge,” said Hill.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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