Bridge of the Gods limits send fewer trucks than expected to HR Bridge

When the Port of Cascade Locks announced in July that the Bridge of the Gods would have its weight limit reduced from 40 to 8 tons — effectively banning all truck traffic from crossing the bridge — the news immediately raised a red flag at the Port of Hood River.

In a story that ran shortly after the new weight limits went into effect, Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee said he was “concerned” about how the restrictions would impact the Hood River Bridge due to the increase in truck traffic the bridge was likely to experience.

Last week, the Port of Hood River released its August bridge crossing data, which showed that more trucks are indeed crossing the Hood River Bridge due to the Bridge of the Gods restrictions, but the percent increase in truck traffic was not nearly as high as port officials expected. Port of Hood River Finance Manager Fred Kowell said only around 7 or 8 percent of the 6.2-percent increase in truck traffic the Hood River Bridge experienced in the month of August could be attributable to diversions from the Bridge of the Gods.

“We were all surprised,” he said. “Seven to 8 percent? That’s nothing. I was thinking it would be 30 to 40 percent.”

According to the data, the Port of Hood River logged 369,987 total crossings over the Hood River Bridge for the month of August 2013 — a 2.5-percent increase over August 2012, which Kowell said was close to the average increase in traffic the bridge sees every year. Because of the seasonal nature of traffic on the Hood River Bridge, Kowell said the port compared August 2013 data to August 2012 numbers instead of comparing August 2013 figures to July 2013 figures.

Of those 369,987 crossings, 7,812 were made by vehicles with three axles or more, which Kowell characterized as “definitely a cutoff” for vehicles that would not currently be allowed on the Bridge of the Gods. That marks an increase of 454 vehicles or 6.2 percent when compared to August 2012 figures.

However, data from the Port of Cascade Locks, which was provided by the Port of Hood River, demonstrates that the Bridge of the Gods experienced a decrease of 3,700 three-axle-plus vehicles last month compared to August 2012 numbers. With an increase of only 454 three-axle-plus vehicles on the Hood River Bridge, Kowell interpreted the data to mean that most trucks and other heavy vehicles that can’t cross the Bridge of the Gods aren’t crossing the Hood River Bridge, as was previously expected. Moreover, Kowell noted the 454-vehicle increase in truck and heavy vehicle traffic isn’t necessarily wholly attributable to Bridge of the Gods weight restrictions.

Where have the trucks gone, then? Kowell wasn’t exactly sure.

“I don’t know the psychology of it, but I know the numbers,” he said.

The original weight restrictions on the Bridge of the Gods are supposed to be restored by the end of the year pending the completion of the repair and the replacement of dozens of gussets and stringers on the 87-year-old structure. With narrower lanes that experience more than double the amount of traffic that the Bridge of the Gods does annually, the 89-year-old Hood River Bridge isn’t an ideal alternative for all truckers to use. Kowell said it “would be bad” if even the modest increase in heavy vehicle traffic the Hood River Bridge is currently experiencing were to continue for longer than a year, causing bridge maintenance projects to commence sooner than expected.

“What it means is the fatigue factor of the metal on the bridge speeds up,” he explained. “What that is that the bridge isn’t going down; it just increases the overall lifespan of the bridge.”

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