Port to meet with FHWA on bridge replacement

A woman passes under the Hood River Bridge on her paddleboard.

The Port of Hood River needs a federal agency to take the lead on the bridge replacement project before it can move forward, and they’ll soon determine whether the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is willing to take that on.

“It makes most sense” for FHWA to serve as lead agency, said Project Director Kevin Greenwood, since the Washington division served as lead agency in earlier efforts. Since most of the project’s funding now comes from ODOT, the Oregon division would be the lead agency for the rest of the project.

Identifying a lead agency for the project is a crucial part of the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS), which has to be submitted and approved before the port can submit permit applications.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a procedural law that directs federal agencies on how to handle environmental issues, a federal agency is required to claim responsibility for managing and facilitating NEPA compliance for the overall project when federal funds are involved.

At the port commission’s Sept. 11 meeting, Greenwood announced that the port and WSP Global will meet with the Oregon chapter of FHWA on Sept. 24 to discuss having them serve as the lead agency.

When asked if a decision will be made at the Sept. 24 meeting, Greenwood said, “That is our hope, but it’s hard to say what FHWA will decide.” If a decision is not made at that meeting then one will be shortly thereafter, he added.

Should FHWA decline to serve as the lead agency, the port would then reach out to other federal agencies such as the Coast Guard or the Army Corps of Engineers, who have both shown interest in the project.

While not part of the NEPA process, the port commission also discussed contracting an agency to advise on traffic and revenue studies, which will be essential to project implementation after the FEIS is finished.

“Traffic and revenue studies (T&Rs) are a key component of how a project will be financed and ultimately delivered, and not specifically a part of the NEPA process,” Greenwood said in his report.

The port is considering a contract with Stantec, an international design and consulting agency, to advise on traffic and revenue studies.

Stantec’s west coast manager for transportation planning and development, Steve Abendschein, is based in New York but Greenwood said he comes highly recommended by Steve Siegel, a Portland-based environmental attorney who is contracted as a consultant. Siegel and Abendshein worked together on the Columbia River Crossing project several years ago, Greenwood said.

The goal of the contract with Stantec is not to produce a traffic and revenue study, he said, but to review materials and advise the port on a plan moving forward.

“In the case of the Hood River Bridge, the T&R will help the port commission determine whether a new facility can be built within a range of acceptable tolls and what level of public granting would be required to make up the difference,” Greenwood said in his report.

The $20,000 contract was not ready by the Sept. 11 meeting but will be presented to the commission at its Oct. 2 meeting for approval, he said.

In the meantime, the port and WSP Global will continue to make progress on the FEIS and are in the process of doing one-on-one interviews with 20 stakeholders on both sides of the river for the Bridge Replacement Advisory Committee (BRAC). “Once we complete these (interviews), we anticipate the advisement committee meeting a couple of weeks afterwards,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood reported that he spoke with Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRIFC) Executive Director Jaime Pinkham in August and has since been introduced to representatives from each of the four member tribes: Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs reservation, and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation.

“We’ve made contact with all four tribes and now we’re just trying to schedule one-on-one meetings,” Greenwood said, a process that he said will likely take a couple of weeks to complete.

The bridge replacement project is on track so far, with the FEIS scheduled to be done by early 2021. WSP recently presented a draft of the project’s risk register, a master document meant to help identify, avoid and resolve potential issues that can affect the project’s schedule or budget. The document is a work in progress and will be updated continually as the project progresses, Greenwood said.

Of the 16 risks identified on the register, the three with the highest combined probability and impact are: FHWA declining to serve as lead federal agency, difficulty getting a decision on a lead federal agency, and navigation clearance changing from what’s laid out in the TS&L (Type, Size and Location), a preliminary design report for the bridge. WSP and the port hope to avoid the latter by initiating the navigational survey early on in the project and coordinating regularly with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Port staff are working to create their own risk register for the overall project that will be shared with the commission at its Oct. 2 meeting, he said.

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