The Port of Hood River, a public agency, has owned and operated the Hood River/White Salmon Interstate Bridge since 1950. The 4,418’ steel truss bridge was originally constructed in 1924. It provides a critical, bi-state transportation link in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Bridge is over 30 years past its design life. Its sufficiency rating, a numeric representation of reliability and functionality, is 48.8, a strong indicator of functional obsolescence. It creates a hazardous traffic bottleneck during closures of I-84 in Oregon or SR-14 Washington, a frequent occurrence. It has 9’4” travel lanes, vastly undersized for today’s vehicles, and no pedestrian or bicycle facilities. The 80,000 lbs. weight limit restricts vehicle freight movement; and the narrow, poorly aligned navigation channel presents the greatest navigational hazard on the entire Columbia/Snake River federal inland waterway system. For these reasons, and more, the Port of Hood River Commission set course in 2015 to pursue bridge replacement.
Significant efforts to replace the bridge have been underway since the 1990’s. The Port is leading the effort to complete the next steps: a Final Environmental Impact Statement, financial analysis, and preliminary engineering and has secured state of Oregon financial support for this work. Building a large piece of bridge infrastructure in a small market with decreasing levels of federal funding is a significant challenge. And, under any likely scenario, the bridge will need to be a toll facility. Tolls are the only possible source of the significant local match required for federal grant funding, and a public/private partnership (“P3”) would rely almost entirely upon tolls to repay borrowed capital. The Port utilizes toll revenue to finance ongoing repairs that keep the current bridge safe and operational, and tolls will continue to play a critical role in financing the ultimate replacement bridge.
Critical Link in Regional Transportation System at Risk
- The bridge is structurally deficient for modern freight, recreational, and emergency response vehicles.The bridge is structurally deficient for modern freight, recreational, and emergency response vehicles.
- Expenses associated with keeping the bridge safe and operational are increasing, and cost of anticpated repairs and capital improvement exceed toll revenue projections.
- The bridge creates an unsafe choke point for large volumes of detoured traffic during emergencies and freeway closures, occurring on average 3-5 times each year.
- Traffic delays resulting from repair and maintenance work will continue to increase as needed repair projects increase in frequency.
- The bridge cannot accommodate growing traffic volumes (increasing 3.5% each year), and deterioration exacerbated by heavy trucks is accelerating. The bridge has no bicycle or pedestrian crossing lanes and cannot support the addition of such facilities.
- The bridge is seismically deficient and vulnerable to catastrophic failure in an earthquake.
- The bridge is the most hazardous navigational obstacle on the Columbia/Snake federal inland waterway with a poorly aligned navigation channel that is less than half the recommended width.
- Learn more about anticipated repair and capital upgrades here.
Progress made on the long path to a new bridge
The passage of Oregon HB 2750 and HB 2017 during the 2017 Oregon legislative session represent the most significant steps foward for bridge replacement in over a decade. Significant challenges remain, as public infrastructure funding at the local, state, and federal levels are very limited and project is located in a bi-state, rural area with a small population. Whether for repairs to the existing bridge or planning and construction of a new one, tolls will continue to be the primary funding source for the bridge. The chart below illustrates the likely pathways to a new bridge, including scenarios for a Design-Build, publicly-funded option or a public-private partnership, often referred to as a “P3” option. Click the image to download the PDF version of the chart.
Bridge Repair and Replacement Fund
On June 15, 1995, the Port established a Bridge Repair and Replacement Fund. All revenue from toll increases implemented in 1994, 2011, and a proposed increase in 2018, are dedicated to bridge repair or replacement. Since the fund was first established, revenues derived from the toll increases have been limited to (a) payment of Bridge expenditures, including capital projects, maintenance, operations (including direct and overhead expenses), equipment, reserves, financing costs (including debt service), and expenses to promote mass transit use of the Bridge, and (b) expenses associated with borrowings and any bond covenants. All revenue raised from this increase will have the same restrictions. As the Port plots a complex path toward replacement while also ensuring the existing bridge remains safe and operational, toll revenue will continue to be the sole source of funding.