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Port tests ‘as needed’ toll waiver

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

August 5, 2006

Traffic congestion at the Exit 64/Interstate 84 interchange may get some relief starting Friday.

On Tuesday the Port of Hood River commissioners approved a limited suspension of bridge tolls during peak hours. Even though the bridge provides a major source of revenue for the port, the commissioners’ intent is to address a critical safety issue.

“Anyone who travels on Interstate 84 between downtown Hood River’s Second Street and Exit 64 understands the problem,” said Michael McElwee, port executive director. “Vehicles stack up and a dangerous backup often extends into active freeway vehicle lanes.”

Following some discussion, the commissioners agreed the waiver would not come during set hours but when needed. They talked about how the problem seems to compound during the busy recreational summer but can’t be pinpointed to an exact day of the week or time.

The port plans the suspension only on a trial basis through August. Toll suspensions will not happen every day, only when necessary. The trigger for waiving the fee comes at the booth attendants’ discretion when vehicles are backed up to the four-way intersection directly south of the bridge.

“We will still put tickets in the drawer to count the number of cars waved through to track it in-house,” said Linda Shames, the port’s budget officer.

Once traffic is cleared, the tolls will resume. The port plans this fall to add automated toll lanes to help with the bottleneck by increasing capacity over the Hood River bridge. The project scope includes adding north and southbound express lanes where commuters can pay tolls electronically in advance.

On a larger scale, the Oregon Department of Transportation is studying revamping the exits 62, 63, and 64 off I-84 in 2008. ODOT planner Kristen Stallman said Thursday the agency had just hired D.K.S. Associates of Portland as the consulting firm which will conduct a yearlong study.

While the study will focus primarily on the exits, it will also examine how to resolve traffic problems between I-84, the city of Hood River and the waterfront.

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