Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
BRIDGE of the Gods toll employee Peggy Towery reaches to accept a toll from a driver heading north. Port officials are looking at creating an electronic toll system for the first time in the bridge’s 90-year history.
Crossings over the Bridge of the Gods may soon be getting quicker as the Port of Cascade Locks is looking at having the bridge outfitted with electronic tolling technology by this fall.
The Cascade Locks Port Commission reviewed a report last week during its regular meeting that contained information on different kinds of electronic tolling technology offered by companies such as Xerox and 3M that the port might potentially install on the Bridge of the Gods.
In general, electronic toll collection functions with the use of transponders that are fashioned to a vehicle’s windshield or dashboard and are then read by an antenna or other device as they pass through a toll booth. The transponder can either be connected to the driver’s bank account, or the entity that is collecting the tolls can choose to bill the driver at regular intervals.
The Port of Hood River installed similar technology, referred to as “BreezeBy,” on the Hood River Bridge in 2007. Port of Cascade Locks General Manager Paul Koch indicated that this would be the first time electronic tolling technology had been used on the nearly 90-year-old Bridge of the Gods.
Koch said the port is looking to install the technology to improve the tracking and reporting of toll collections and to speed up the time it takes to collect a toll “as traffic increases on the bridge.” Koch said the system would also help make sure “that we are properly measuring the number of axles” of vehicles that cross the bridge. In July, ODOT notified the port it would have to restrict specialized haul vehicles that had more than four axles and weights of 50,000 pounds if the port could not afford to upgrade its approach spans.
Estimates for the project cost range from $800,000 to $1 million, although the port has not received any bids as the request for proposals still has to be reviewed by commissioners during their next regular meeting on Feb. 19. Koch was not able to confirm that a toll increase would be needed to pay for the project, although he noted that “the concept of having to pay for that and paying for 250 other things is factored in” when the commission evaluates whether or not there would need to be a toll increase.
If the port discontinued bridge tickets and charged an extra 25-cent fee to non-Gorge residents — the latter scenario having been discussed by commissioners before in a previous meeting — net revenue for the Bridge of the Gods would increase $186,000 a year, assuming 1.6 million annual crossings, according to an analysis by an unnamed firm in the report. For fiscal year 2014-15, which started July 1, 2014, the port budgeted for $1.5 million in toll revenue.
Additionally, the report noted that the electronic tolling vendors “indicate a history of increased annual revenue after installation” for the agencies, with the rise in revenues ranging from 2 to 4 percent. The report also suggests that “the ability to view and fund (toll) accounts online will be valuable in increasing the commercial traffic of the bridge.”
Koch noted that toll booth staffing adjustments may take place as the port will likely be “transitioning to more full-time toll takers as opposed to part-time toll takers.” Currently, the toll booth is staffed by three full-time, four part-time, and two seasonal employees, according to the report.
The port commission may make a decision on the request for proposals at its Feb. 19 meeting. Koch also said a discussion regarding changes to tolls will likely also be on the agenda, with a possible decision to be made as early as the port’s first meeting in March, typically scheduled for the first Thursday. The port’s maintenance and operation plan for the Bridge of the Gods mandates that the price of tolls are reviewed on an annual basis.
The exact project deadline hasn’t been set yet, but the port anticipates installation of the new system would start at the beginning of July and be fully operational by November.