Access at Bridges

For decades, bridge right-of-ways have served as an important access point for those recreating on rivers across the country. When a bridge is constructed, it represents an important opportunity to evaluate how the public is using the site for river access and identify opportunities to both improve public safety and enhance the quality of the user experience. Several states encourage or require assessment of opportunities to provide or improve access at bridges through state laws or interagency agreements. American Whitewater has worked with state legislatures and state agencies across the country to encourage policies to enhance access to waterways at bridge crossings. The following examples include some of the examples include states where we have worked to establish law and policy to provide public access at bridge crossings:


Access to waterways is recognized in the California State Constitution (Article X Water, Section 1, Sec. 7) with language establishing the right of public access to the water. Regulations further establish that when a new bridge is constructed across a navigable river, there shall be full consideration of, and a report on, the feasibility of providing a means of public access to the navigable river for public recreational purposes: State Bridge Access Regulation, 84.5, County Highway Bridge Regulations, § 991, City Street Bridge Regulations, § 1809.


The Montana Code Annotated 23-2-312 recognizes that a person may gain access to surface waters for recreational use at a public bridge, its right-of-way, and its abutments. These provisions were established through HB 190 in 2009.


In 2019 the Oregon legislature passed House Bill 2835 that was subsequently signed into law by Governor Brown. The legislation included a number of provisions related to public access. Among these was a section that requires Oregon Department of Transportation to notify the Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, and Oregon State Marine Board when the Department of Transportation proposes construction of a new bridge that crosses a floatable natural waterway or improvements to an existing bridge that crosses a floatable natural waterway. The agencies may propose changes to the project to enable public access to the waterway. To the greatest extent practicable, when constructing a project, the Department of Transportation may not adversely impact existing, lawful public access. American Whitewater volunteer Priscilla Macy was instrumental in moving this legislation through the process.


In July 2015, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a Memorandum of Understanding that solidifies Virginia’s commitment to enhancing recreational water access throughout the state. The MOU directs three state agencies (Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Virginia Department of Transportation) to work together to identify new potential public-access projects, particularly at bridge crossings and roads. The MOU formalizes the process by which the agencies will work together on new access projects. The agencies will meet at least annually to review bridge, road, or ferry project sites for the potential to offer public access to state waters. DCR or DGIF will seek comments from adjacent property owners, local governments, and other stakeholders for proposed access projects. VDOT will stabilize or leave in place any access roads or staging areas within its right of way that could be useful for the development of access projects.

Washington State

Substitute Senate Bill 6363 -2015-16, concerning the design and construction of certain transportation facilities adjacent to or across a river or waterway, developed out of an interest in improving public access at bridge right-of-ways in direct response to recommendations in the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force to Develop a Transformation Strategy for Outdoor Recreation in Washington State. Specific actions identified by the Task Force included involving state agencies beyond those already involved in recreation, improving state government services to make access to outdoor recreation easier, and enhancing transportation investments that serve recreational purposes. American Whitewater worked with Northwest Marine Trade Association to develop the legislation that was introduced by Senators Takko, Ericksen, Hobbs, and Parlette as Senate Bill 6363; a companion bill, House Bill 2660, was introduced by Representatives Bergquist, Hayes, Tarleton, and Stambaugh. The bill was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee in 2016 and is now included in state law as RCW 47.01.500.

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