The Port of Hood River is working to define a fine structure for vehicles repeatedly avoiding the toll on the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge.
Currently, when a vehicle repeatedly runs through the toll-facility, port staff look up the vehicle in either the Oregon or Washington DMV databases and sends a bill or notice to the listed address.
“All we were doing then was getting the toll back plus any other fees the DMV charged, which are usually nominal,” said Fred Kowell, port chief financial officer, at the port’s Aug. 20 commission meeting.
However, the bridge has new camera technology coming online within the next 30-60 days, which warrants the need for the port to formally define a fine structure, Kowell said.
“At this point in time, we need to think about it,” he said.
The commissioners discussed whether the policy would need to include a three- to 10-day grace period, as most other tolling agencies do with their fine policies. The reason that many other tolling agencies have that grace period, Kowell explained, is that they don’t have operational toll booths — which is not the case for the Hood River bridge. The commissioners ultimately agreed that there isn’t a need to include the grace period in the port’s toll fine policy.
He proposed repurposing the port’s fine system for parking violations with the same rates: $18, plus the parking fee (which, if repurposed for the bridge, would be the $2 toll), which doubles to $36 if left unpaid for 30 days, and doubles again to $54 after 60 days. After 90 days, the fine would go up to $74, plus the bridge toll, and go to the port’s collection agency.
For vehicles Class 3 or higher, which cause more damage to the bridge than the standard Class 1 vehicles, he proposed starting at the $36 fee, plus the toll and any ancillary costs.
Another reason to define a fine structure is to discourage repeat offenders from dodging the toll in the first place.
Customers with BreezeBy transponders on their windshields have the option of going through the prepaid toll lane, which is equipped with a barrier arm. Cameras read the transponder as the car enters the lane and the barrier arm lifts when the computer verifies the customer’s account and lowers after a few seconds; but repeat offenders without BreezeBy accounts have found that they can take advantage of that system by getting into the Breezeby lane and tailgating the car in front of them, speeding through before the barrier arm can come back down.
This technique is worrisome, Kowell said, because of the potential damage it poses to other cars, the barrier arm and the bridge structure itself in the event of a collision.
Commissioner Hoby Streich said that he would not mind seeing fines go above $50 to “send a message” to repeat offenders.
“If you don’t make it hurt, it won’t stop,” he said.
Streich and the other commissioners clarified that the intent of a higher fine would be to discourage repeat offenders taking advantage of the system — not to punish those who honestly cannot afford the toll.
There was some discussion about incorporating a fee structure into the BreezeBy system — the port’s electronic prepaid toll account — to discourage customers from crossing the bridge when their accounts are depleted, but Kowell said that, since BreezeBy is primarily used by local community members, he would prefer to be as lenient with the system as possible.
Ultimately, the commission agreed to start with a toll fine policy based on the port’s parking fine structure, and Kowell said that he would come back with a proposal at a later meeting.