Gorge transportation providers address needs


News staff writer

January 27, 2007

Transportation providers from across the counties and towns that span the region met Jan. 17 in White Salmon to begin talking about unmet needs.

The Mid Columbia Economic Development District pulled the groups together along with users as part of a national project. Those areas represented included Klickitat and Skamania counties from Washington and Hood River, Wasco, Sherman and Wheeler counties from Oregon.

Last year the Community Transportation Association of America in Washington, D.C., chose the Gorge region as one of four sites nationwide to participate in a unique program. The Jan. 17 meeting was the first step in the process. MCEDD Director Lee Curtis explained at the start of the meeting that the idea is to promote economic development through enhanced public transit services.

“Something we run into in smaller communities a lot is the question of what does transit really mean for different communities,” said Charles Rutkowski, the CTA director for technical assistance programs.

The project aims to come up with strategies to remove barriers and help improve services. CTAA will hire a consultant in February to coordinate the three- to four-month project. The first step will be to assess needs and resources in the area.

During the round-robin style first meeting; Rutkowski asked each of the 40-member audience to share what they saw as a need.

“For now, think in terms of need, not cost,” he said.

Those needs covered a wide range of uses from connectivity between communities to employment and education.

Dan Spatz, resource development director for Columbia Gorge Community College, said the college itself is conducting an inventory of current transportation providers as part of a long-range needs and assessment effort.

“We need to take advantage of a tie-in to any plan for campuses in Hood River and The Dalles,” he said.

In terms of economic development, many present felt that it would be strengthened by better serving the hours and the geography needs of Gorge workers. Bill Fashing, economic development director for Hood River County, said that the nature of seasonal and tourist-based industries carries a uniqueness to it.

“With the tourism industry, you have numbers of people that have to be many places at odd hours,” he said.

Many said the geographical layout of current routes does not match to the needs of some users. Representatives from Klickitat County said people from Goldendale need to access many services not provided there, including a Medicaid-approved pharmacy as well as medical specialists. They said people also come into the town for government-related appointments as Goldendale is the county seat.

Participants discussed how demographics play a part in unmet transportation needs, with mass transit appealing to both aging populations and the environmentally conscious.

“We have a high percentage of seniors in an area the size of Rhode Island with one bus and one driver,” said Danny Ross, a volunteer driver from Maupin.

Link Shadley, a MCEDD project manager, said he wanted to advocate for elders who are “people who either don’t drive at night or don’t drive at all.” He also brought up the issue of workers who cross over the Columbia River to work.

Port of Klickitat director Diane Childs said she saw transportation needs for workers not only being an issue between distant cities in town but within smaller communities closer together.

“There are workers going to SDS Lumber down at the port,” she said. “I’m seeing lots of interaction between White Salmon, Bingen, and also Stevenson.”

Several people brought up needs indirectly related to workers including recreation, family, daycare, and getting youth to after-school activities. Some thought there needed to be simply more communication and coordination with what already exists.

“Coordinating schedules can be challenging,” said Martin Campos-Davis, of the state’s Work Source program. “Simply taking advantage of what is there and getting the word out is important.”

During the next few months, the CTAA consultant will focus on producing a plan to match needs and resources with a final plan ready by early fall. The regional groups will meet every month or two with the next meeting set for late February or early March. The meetings are open to the public as well as to transportation providers and users.

For more information, call MCEDD at (541) 296-2266 or visit http://www.gorgetranslink.com.

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