Port to poll motorists on bridge work

The Port of Hood River is seeking to keep an upcoming construction project on the aging tollbridge from creating more than minimal crossing delays.

Although some total closures for redecking will be inevitable, the public agency believes it can draft a plan to keep that inconvenience to a minimum, according to Dave Harlan, port director.

To determine the best hours for a shutdown, Harlan said that within the next month, the port will poll bridge users and survey business owners on both sides of the Columbia River.

Harlan said the port is hesitating to follow the recommendation of HNTB Architects Engineering Planners, hired in early 2001 to set up the framework for the renovation, that the bridge be closed from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. during the construction period. He said the Bellevue, Wash., company calculated the longer work period would save both time and money.

However, some Hood River business owners have complained that closing the bridge for the entire night would create an economic hardship since it would take away their Washington clientele.

“Obviously this work will bring some disruption no matter how we do it but the question is whether the disruption is longer or shorter,” Harlan said.

Harlan said the port may follow the same course it took in 2001 when the bridge was closed from 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. nightly during lift span repairs and then reopened for 30 minutes before being shutdown for four hours.

“We just haven’t completely decided what we are going to do and want to possibly put together a committee of interested individuals to help study our options,” said Harlan.

He said that group would ideally be made up of commuters and business owners reliant upon interstate trade. On average, Harlan said between 6,000-7,000 vehicles cross over the bridge each day and while the port is trying to accommodate that traffic, it also has to upgrade the structure to ensure safe passage.

The existing decking on the 81-year-old bridge was installed in the 1950s and the nearly $7 million replacement project is expected to take about 176 days with a largely uninterrupted work schedule. Harlan said the actual starting date for the work is still unclear so the port has some time to strike a balance between cost efficiency and the needs of motorists. With only $1.5 million banked away for the project, the port decided to put the work on hold while it lobbied for federal funding to help offset expenses.

He said even when the bridge is shut down to regular travel, contingency plans are being made that will allow one lane to be reopened quickly in an emergency.

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