Plans prepared for public involvement in bridge project

The bridge replacement project is moving along smoothly: Federal Highway Administration agreed to be the lead agency for the project following a September meeting, “so that’s a nice goal to have overcome,” said Project Director Kevin Greenwood; and now they have a plan in place for engaging the public in project developments through the end of the FEIS process.

“Public involvement is a critical part of any NEPA process,” said Greenwood, adding that 12 percent of WSP’s $3.1 million budget has been earmarked for this purpose.

The goal of the plan is to help the port and other project organizers think strategically about public involvement.

“It’s good to identify who you’re trying to communicate with, so you know how to communicate with them,” said Anne Pressentin of EnviroIssues, a company contracted by WSP Global to work on the FEIS.

Pressentin presented the plan to the port commission at their Oct. 16 meeting, which comes at the end of a series of interviews with 18 stakeholders, such as government and non-profit representatives, business owners and employees, on both sides of the river to discuss public concerns and opinions about the replacement project.

One of the primary takeaways from these interviews was the stakeholders’ universal agreement that the bridge needed to be replaced quickly. Concerns focused not so much on the FEIS process, but on what the new bridge will look like: Bike and pedestrian safety, weight limits and the narrowness of the current bridge were cited as issues, and stakeholders were in favor of preliminary proposal for a replacement bridge just west of the current bridge, with two travel lanes and a bike/pedestrian path.

The public involvement plan identifies different audiences that the port needs to reach, including businesses, low-income populations, government entities and Spanish speakers; as well as barriers to participation for any of these groups. “One of the really big ones is essentially language,” Pressentin said, and recommended translation as a priority.

Stakeholders also said that face-to-face communication and regular information are important. “One of the things I’ve really noticed is that regular information needs to be sent out,” Pressentin said, because a number of people “are hungry for this information.”

To help with this part of public involvement, WSP is working on developing a logo to use for the rest of the NEPA process that will not only give the project an identity separate from the port, but will also drive people to sources of information, such as a website with live-updates.

“It (the project) can’t be just done by the Port of Hood River, it has to be a regional effort” said Commissioner Brian Shortt.

Washington representatives have confirmed their support of the replacement effort, Greenwood said.

Though things are going well for the project overall, FHWA decided to delegate most of the project review work to ODOT — which isn’t unusual for a project of this size, Greenwood said — but ODOT expects to be paid for its staff time, creating some unanticipated costs. That money can come out of the project’s contingency fund, but there is some concern about other costs moving forward. “As we start working with other federal agencies, what are those costs going to be?” Greenwood said. ODOT will be reviewing documents at each major stage of the process.

Overall, the budget needed for this project year is lower than expected, he said, and he hopes to have a full scope of work and budget to give the commissioners at one of their November meetings.



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