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Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, center right, walks with Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett across the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge moments after it was dedicated Wednesday in Salem. The new bridge for walkers and cyclists connects three green spaces in Oregon's capital city. [AP Photo/Andrew Selsky]

Oregon Senate president talks of unity in bridge dedication

SALEM — As an osprey soared overhead and boaters floated nearby, a pedestrian and cyclist bridge that connects green spaces in Oregon's capital city was dedicated Wednesday to the state Legislature's longest-serving member.

The Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge connects three riverside green spaces in Salem, and fulfills a dream long held by many supporters of Salem.

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who is 74, recalled that he was a Salem city council member in the 1970s when city leaders wrestled over the decision to build a skybridge in downtown Salem. Since then, an abandoned railway bridge over the Willamette River has been converted into a bike-walking bridge.

And now the new bridge, combined with the railway bridge, connects 1,300 acres of three parks and more than 30 miles of paved and unpaved trails.

"We live at a time when we're terribly divided as a people, terribly divided as a country," Courtney told several hundred people at an amphitheater. "Yet Salem today builds a bridge that brings people together, socially and economically. The timing couldn't be more extraordinary."

His words were punctuated by blasts from the sternwheeler's horn, and clanging from a nearby construction project. Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett recalled that factories and overgrown blackberry bushes used to cover the area, and said that now there are new restaurants and shops in the nearby downtown area.

A bagpiper and a color guard led Courtney, other politicians and well-wishers to the bridge for the ceremony. Kayakers floated underneath the span that crosses a slough alongside the Willamette River.

The bridge was the last link between Wallace Marine Park, Riverfront Park and Minto-Brown Island Park.

"With this sweet little bridge, you brought people together," Courtney said, addressing the project's backers. "The world today needs more sweet little bridges."

After helping unveil a plaque and cutting a ribbon, Courtney strolled down the bridge that features two gleaming white arches.

Construction delays on the bridge, which was budgeted at $10 million, pushed back the formal opening, though the bridge was open informally this spring for a few weeks.

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