HR Port to apply for bridge replacement study funds

Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge

Photo by Patrick Mulvihill
Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge

The Port of Hood River is poised to apply for a federal grant in order to study replacing the aging Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge.

A $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “FASTLANE” program would position the port and partner agencies to make pre-construction plans and assessments related to an eventual replacement of the steel bridge — a 92-year-old passenger and freight corridor spanning the Columbia River.

The deadline to submit grant requests is Dec. 15. Just two days before that, the Port Commission is set to meet and decide whether the agency wants to send off their application, which is currently in draft form.

Port Commission President Brian Shortt described the advocacy and planning process for a bridge replacement as “monumental.”

He explained the board unanimously gave the go-ahead for staff to draft an application. The panel has the option of approving it at their next meeting.

The application would be sent in coordination with Oregon Department of Transportation, Washington Department of Transportation, and Federal Highway Administration, Shortt said.

Physically replacing the bridge would carry a $260 million-plus price tag, according to estimates in a port staff report.

The grant would fund a final environmental impact statement, early engineering, and right-of-way access. If approved, the FASTLANE grant would still require nearly $4 million in matching funds from the port.

“The port would seek a partnership with ODOT, via legislative action in spring of 2017, to help with this match; however, the port would need to be prepared to meet the match requirement itself, likely with a loan re-paid through an increase in tolls,” according to a report by Port Communications and Special Projects Manager Genevieve Scholl.

The grant award would be announced at some time before the end of the 2017 fiscal year. If the port receives notification of the grant award, staff would draft a request for proposal (RFP) for the first phase of pre-construction, in 2018, the report said.

The port has owned and operated the bridge since 1950. Over the last decade, the port has needed to invest over $24 million to keep the bridge open and operational.

Government jurisdictions have discussed a bridge replacement since 1999. Scoping sessions overseen by the FHA resulted in a feasibility study and draft environmental impact statement in 2003, the final version of which would be completed via the grant.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) successfully pushed for a broad Act that gave special consideration for projects within National Scenic Areas — including the Hood River Bridge and Bridge of the Gods — so owner agencies could carve out their own niche when applying for federal infrastructure grants.

In March, the Hood River Bridge become part of Highway 35 — and the national highway grid — when the U.S. Department of Transportation granted a request by the port, ODOT, and WSDOT to give it a National Highway System designation. That initial step could qualify the bridge for federal program dollars.

Ownership of a new bridge isn’t yet clearly defined, and the commission has considered — at a series of work sessions — that various agencies other than the port might own the new bridge. Though construction is years away, Shortt has stated in recent work sessions he hopes the bridge replacement will be possible within a decade.

The port commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 5 p.m., at the Marina Conference Room, 1000 E. Marina Drive.

Also next week, at the same location, the port will hold a meeting Thursday, Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m., discussing a waterfront parking management plan.

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