A month into electronic tolling on the Bridge of the Gods, roughly 30 percent of bridge traffic is now using the Port of Hood River’s BreezeBy system, and the Port of Cascade Locks reports that both the system and the partnership between the two ports have been successful so far.
“It’s always an anxious time to implement a system but knock on wood … this has been a very good implementation,” said Fred Kowell, chief financial officer for the Port of Hood River, at a joint meeting of the Port of Hood River and Port of Cascade Locks commissions on Jan. 30.
“We’re focused on (fixing) little things right now, not big things,” said Bridge of the Gods Manager Ryan Vollans, referencing cases of drivers incorrectly registering their vehicle, and incidents where the BreezeBy sensor was tripped by Cascade Locks’ heavy morning fog. “These are small things that we can fix, but overall, it’s going great,” Vollans said. “I’m very pleased with the partnership and where we’re at right now with it.”
The Port of Cascade Locks signed an intergovernmental agreement with the Port of Hood River back in October for use of the BreezeBy system. Because the Port of Hood River owns the BreezeBy system, the Port of Hood River will provide back office services for the Port of Cascade Locks and The Port of Hood River will retain 13 cents per crossing to cover operational costs.
Electronic tolling is expected to speed up transactions across the Bridge of the Gods and ease the heavy backlog the bridge sees over the summer months, said Jess Groves, Port of Cascade Locks Commission president.
Ultimately, the Port of Cascade Locks hopes to add a second lane to the toll-booth area so that BreezeBy customers don’t have to wait in the same line as cash-paying customers. “The goal is to have enough of traffic breezing through to help those lines,” Groves said. That addition is at least a few years out, but Vollans said that he has already noticed an improvement in bridge traffic during morning and evening commutes. However, they have to wait until summer traffic hits to see how effective the system really is for easing traffic backups on the bridge.
“I think the big test will be when we hit May and June,” Vollans said. “We’ll have more people with transponders by that point; hopefully, we’ll be close to 50 percent transponders by that point.”
Approximately 70 percent of traffic on the Hood River Bridge is currently using BreezeBy, Kowell said, but that percentage drops to about 60 percent during the summer months because of the influx of visitors.
The Port of Cascade Locks gave bridge-users until Feb. 3 to phase out their coupon books and local stickers that previously provided discounted tolls; Vollans said that he expects a surge of new BreezeBy customers once those are no longer accepted for toll payment.
Cascade Locks Commissioner Joeinne Caldwell has been taking BreezeBy applications to local businesses to help them with registration, and said that she hopes to get all of the local trucking companies and the Oregon Department of Transportation’s motor-pools onto the BreezeBy system.
“I found everybody really thrilled that they can do Hood River and the Bridge of the Gods both,” she said, adding that that people’s biggest problems with registration are figuring out what class their vehicle is, and where they’re supposed to put the transponder on their vehicle. (See sidebar for information on BreezeBy registration.)
Vollans and the Cascade Locks commissioners specifically thanked Port of Hood River staff for helping with the educational component of BreezeBy implantation in Cascade Locks; staff and commissioners from both ports said they were happy with how well the ports have been working together through the implementation process.
“I think it’s a great partnership all around,” Vollans said.