Civic comment: Toll hike helps sustain valued link

September 20, 2011

What is the useful life of the Hood River Bridge?

This question was posed by the Port of Hood River and, by way of an engineering study, the port received a qualified answer. How much are you willing to spend? As with anything from your automobile to your home, how long it lasts depends on how well it is maintained.

The port is committed to maintaining the bridge to extend its life into the future for at least 30 years. We maintain this link to Washington at the highest level possible given the reality of an 87-year-old structure.

With our bridge survey in hand and predicting an average level of deterioration we have peered ahead and estimated the monetary needs required to keep the bridge fully useable into the 30-year horizon line. This horizon line remains 30 years ahead as long as we have no replacement scheduled. This replacement is a $250 million proposition.

In a recent article in Car and Driver magazine, 600 bridge projects were identified and most will likely be higher priorities than the Hood River Bridge. Given the current budgetary realities, future replacement is uncertain, although the port maintains dialogue and continues planning for the eventual replacement.

As the bridge ages, the demands it places on our resources increases; most notably the redecking project recently completed cost $8.1 million, and the upcoming painting project which will only paint specific members of the bridge and will hardly be noticeable by the average user. This project's first phase, which began in August, will cost $2.8 million.

It is important for the port to maintain solvency as we provide support for the vital link that the bridge represents. As the bridge ages these maintenance tasks will increase the amount of maintenance necessary to keep the bridge safe and operating at full capacity.

The only way for the port to accomplish these bridge repairs and be prepared to continue maintaining the bridge to the highest standards is to implement a toll increase.

It is important to note that maintaining the bridge at the highest level is borne by the port; we receive no state gas taxes to operate the structure. Our last increase was in 1994 and helped to fund more than $16 million in bridge infrastructure improvements.

As the port looks at ways to accomplish these maintenance tasks, we are keenly aware of the impact that the toll increase will have on the citizens of the Mid-Columbia region.

Since 1992 the average inflation rate has been 2.47 percent, which would make the passenger vehicle toll $1.06 if we had implemented increases at the rate of inflation during that time. This increase of 25 cents per crossing for cash users is an annual increase of 2 percent if spread out over the last 17 years. The increased monthly cost for BreezeBy users who make 25 roundtrips on the bridge per month would be $6.

No one likes to see fees increase and the port is careful to only ask for those increases when our financial demands require more money than we have available. For the last 17 years we have managed our assets within our budget; it is now necessary for the port to raise the toll in order to provide funding for the upcoming high priority bridge repairs.

Rich McBride serves on the Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners.

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