Port ‘concerned’ about traffic influx

The Port of Hood River will be keeping a close eye on the Hood River Bridge for the next several weeks to prepare for the likely increase in trucks that will be using the structure now that the Bridge of the Gods has stricter weight limits.

“We’re monitoring it,” said Port Executive Director Michael McElwee of the potential traffic increase. “We’re concerned about it.”

New weight limits went into effect July 16 on the Bridge of the Gods, which is owned by the Port of Cascade Locks, after an Oregon Department of Transportation load study revealed that dozens of individual bridge components, particularly gussets and support beams, were in need of either “rehabilitation, repair, or replacement.” Previously rated for 40 tons, the bridge, which spans a section of the Columbia River near Cascade Locks and Stevenson, had its weight limit reduced to eight tons last week.

Port of Cascade Locks interim manager Paul Koch estimated that 100 trucks over 30 tons traveled over the 1,858-foot bridge daily — some of which may now be headed to the Hood River Bridge, along with most motor homes, in order to cross the Columbia.

The Port of Hood River is in the process of compiling data on how many more trucks are using the bridge compared to previous years. McElwee said the port logs every vehicle by type that crosses the bridge and uses axle counters to determine whether the vehicle is a passenger car or a semi. Although the Bridge of the Gods restrictions have been in place for little more than a week, McElwee said Monday afternoon he heard from one of his toll booth operators that a tour bus recently tried to cross at Cascade Locks but had to cross at Hood River instead because of the weight limits.

According to McElwee, the 4,418-foot-long Hood River Bridge saw 3.617 million crossings in 2012 and sees the most traffic in July and August and the least in the winter.

“Summer is overall the busiest traffic period, but we see relatively less truck traffic,” McElwee noted. “Things ramp up in the fall because you have a lot fruit trucks. It’s really seasonal.”

Like the Bridge of the Gods, the Hood River Bridge typically has a weight limit of 80,000 pounds, which McElwee said equated to “more or less a fully-loaded log truck.” However, the lanes on the Bridge of the Gods are over two feet wider than the lanes on the Hood River Bridge and are much more accommodating to larger vehicles. The Port of Hood River’s website even cautions potential travelers that the Hood River Bridge is “a very NARROW bridge” and “large RVs are advised to cross at Cascade Locks or The Dalles.”

McElwee, however, is most concerned about how the potential increase in heavier vehicles “means more wear and tear” on the bridge.

“If it goes on for too long, it becomes a long-term problem,” he said.

ODOT performed a “fracture-critical inspection” on the Hood River Bridge three weeks ago — an exhaustive procedure where McElwee said workers “literally inspect every single truss, every single gusset plate.” The full results of the report haven’t been made available yet, but McElwee noted that ODOT didn’t point out any issues with the bridge that needed to be immediately addressed after the inspection.

McElwee said the port should have a better idea on whether or not heavy vehicle traffic has increased on the bridge after several weeks of study.

“We really roll up our numbers on a monthly basis, so we really won’t have anything until the end of this month and even then that will only be half a month,” he explained. “It will probably before the end of August before we really have the first glimpse on a year-to-year basis whether there’s a relatively large amount (of truck traffic).”

McElwee said the data will be provided to the Port of Cascade Locks as well as ODOT for informational and “decision-making purposes.”

To help speed things along with the Bridge of the Gods repairs, the Hood River County Board of Commissioners officially declared a “local economic emergency” for the county on Friday in a resolution that was signed by County Administrator David Meriwether on behalf of Commission Chair Ron Rivers. The resolution also requested that “the Governor of Oregon declare a state of emergency and consider Hood River County and ‘emergency area.’”

Hood River County Division of Emergency Management Director Karl Tesch said the “resolution does away with rules and regulations that have to do with purchasing,” meaning that for the sake of time, the Bridge of the Gods repair project wouldn’t have to go through the bidding process that is typically required. According to the Port of Cascade Locks, the repair project likely won’t be finished until at least December 2013 and could take as long as November 2014.

In addition to Hood River County’s resolution, Tesch noted that Skamania County will also be signing a similar resolution appealing Washington Governor Jay Inslee for assistance.

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