Port faces funding dilemma over bridge work

The Port of Hood River is facing a dilemma over when to undertake a major redecking project on its aging toll bridge.

The 78-year-old structure is requiring more repairs to its decking this year than ever before. However, the hope of capturing federal transportation dollars to help offset the $8-10 million project is fading in light of Oregon’s major bridge problems.

Dave Harlan, port director, said the public agency is now taking a hard look at its own $7 million annual budget to determine if it can pay for the work without any state or federal financial aid. He said that option may be possible because of a $1.5 million reserve built up since toll was increased from 50 cents to 75 cents in 1994. In addition, the port has also just paid off the last $1 million installment on the former Diamond Fruit cannery holdings that it purchased for $12 million in 1985. Although two of the properties have since been sold, Harlan said the port still collects more than $300,000 of annual rent from the eight businesses in the “Big 7” complex on Industrial Avenue and the Columbia Building in downtown Hood River.

“We’ve got a decision to make this summer and we’re trying to position ourselves to go either way,” said Harlan.

He said, although the bridge work was not scheduled to begin until 2004, the port is hesitating about taking on a $180,000 project this fall to replace some of the understructure if that work has to be redone within two years.

However, Harlan said the usual fall fix of broken welds on the decking has now extended into the spring months and looks to be ongoing during the summer as well.

Harlan said that is a clear indication to the port that, although there are currently no safety problems, the time has come to replace the 172 metal deck panels that were installed in the 1950s.

“The decking is continuing to deteriorate and we are going to be increasing our inspection times to ensure there are no problems that we can’t easily fix,” Harlan said.

“We think we can do this work on the port’s back if we have to and we’re now paying attention to the political funding climate out there,” he said.

Meanwhile, the port has prohibited overweight trucks from making the crossing between Oregon and Washington and plans to complete final engineering studies by this fall that will outline the scope of work for the redecking and some understructure work.

In the past three years, the port has spent almost $2.5 million on improvements or repairs to the bridge which was built in 1924.

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