Change in port bridge inspections saves money

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

September 6, 2006

New federal regulations requiring that states take responsibility for all bridge inspections within their boundaries will save money for both ports at Cascade Locks and Hood River.

Port of Hood River commissioners have the intergovernmental agreement on their agenda Tuesday evening. Port of Cascade Locks commissioners approved their agreement Aug. 17. Both agreements last for 10 years.

Port of Cascade Locks Finance Manager Pat Albaugh said the situation ended up being a win-win for both entities. He said the port maintains control of the bridge but has the savings of $30,000 to $45,000 a year.

“When we were contacted in March we were fearful at first because of the issue of control over our bridge, but the project is basically creating a huge bridge inventory nationwide — that’s the purpose of it,” he said.

The agreement is expected to save $100,000 for the Port of Hood River. Both ports have always conducted inspections of their bridges. Port of Hood River Finance Manager Linda Shames said when she attended an ODOT workshop she was told they were ahead of the game from many other municipalities that have bridges.

The mandate came down as part of National Bridge Inspection Standards and pertains to all bridges, 20 feet or longer, on a public road. The change for the Oregon Department of Transportation is that the new rule covers any bridge within the state whether publicly or privately owned. The agency has always inspected public bridges, but not private ones.

“Some examples are the ports’ bridges but also ones belonging to Tri-Met or the University of Oregon in Eugene,” said Gary Bowling, a structural engineer for ODOT.

The inspections examine the structures above and below the water to determine the load rating. Bowling said inspections cover structural capacity and functionality.

“It’s based on the width of the bridge versus average daily traffic,” he said. “That’s used to calculate a sufficiency rating, which we use to get federal dollars appropriated to the state of Oregon.”

Bowling said the estimate is that the federal money will offset the cost of ODOT taking over the inspections.

The state agency has been pushing to complete paperwork this summer because both of the bridges require inspections this year. Bowling said the fall weather is a factor behind their timeline -- “Because winter in the Gorge is not a good time to be climbing around on those structures,” he said.

An ODOT dive team will do the below-water inspection while Burgess and Niple are the subcontractors for the above-water portion. Bowling said due to the narrow width of the spans, the bridges will not be closed for the inspections for safety. The subcontractor uses rock-climbing equipment to accomplish the task.

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