By SUE RYAN
News staff writer
June 3, 2006
The clock strikes 5 p.m. on a weekday and a line of cars forms at the Hood River Bridge as traffic begins to back up near Exit 64.
This daily scenario will be the focus for at least a year of study and analysis through the Oregon Department of Transportation, which began the process on Thursday.
The agency issued a request for proposals from contractors to select a firm that will analyze how to alter exits 62, 63, and 64 off the I-84 highway.
The process will focus primarily on the exits but also examine how to resolve traffic problems between I-84, the city of Hood River, and the waterfront. ODOT senior planner Michael Ray said once the consultant is selected, they will examine the needs of the area.
“One part is to look at local street traffic and how to get it to move better,” he said. “With exits 63 and 64, the problem in Hood River is a lot of people use it as a local street rather than a freeway exit.”
One solution to that problem might be the construction of Frontage Road to span the Hood River and provide a crossing from one part of the waterfront to another without having to get on the highway. But Ray was careful to say that no firm plans have been made and that the process is in the very first stages of research.
Whatever firm ODOT chooses, their work may include some possible revisions to comprehensive plans and zoning. Among some of the other problems in the area, Ray cited the interconnection between the Exit 64 off-ramp and traffic at peak times across the Hood River Bridge to White Salmon. He cited the spacing at the Port of Hood River’s toll plaza.
“That backup (onto the freeway) creates a safety problem,” he said. “It was not built to handle the volume of traffic it does today,” he said.
The Port of Hood River has been working on plans to upgrade the plaza with bids for construction expected to go out in August. The port will also start its own planning process later this summer by choosing a firm to study the Frontage Road project.
“Our study will be from a civil engineering point of view: Is there room for the road? Can we clear the Hood River or would the bridge need to go in the water?” said Budget officer Linda Shames. “It is a separate process from ODOT’s but if a road goes in that would affect the interchange plans.”
Shames said the decision of when to start the Frontage Road study will be up to new Port of Hood River Director Michael McElwee. He begins in his position July 1.