ODOT, local officials discuss Gorge transit

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

January 31, 2007

A discussion on transportation issues for Hood River County took place Friday with top state officials.

Representatives from the Hood River Chamber of Commerce, ports, the city and county met with representatives from project management, planning, and maintenance with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Hood River falls within ODOT’s Region 1 district. This encompasses the Portland metropolitan area, all of Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia and Hood River counties as well as eastern segments of Clatsop and Tillamook counties.

Jason Tell, the Region 1 district manager, said partly the meeting came about to discuss the status of current projects but also to bring several new ODOT people up to speed on concerns from the various governments.

“We need to develop some type of (ongoing) regional forum where we can look at all the issues collectively rather than each one individually,” Tell said.

Larry Nelson is the newest ODOT Region 1 representative, having started last week as District 2C maintenance manager. He replaced Bill Barnhart, who retired Friday. Planner Kristen Stallman began work last July. She works as the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area planner for ODOT.

Tell also began at the agency less than a year ago, in March, as the district manager. He was previously the Region 1 policy and planning manager.

“We won’t address all the issues today but it will be good to get all of them on the table,” Tell said.

While the issues were varied, many topics dealt with the interconnections between future projects and issues impacting Interstate 84 and city streets as well as the Hood River Bridge.

The Port of Hood River is currently working on doubling capacity over the bridge with its toll plaza improvement project. Four lanes will open for testing May 31 and to the general public in September, with two lanes using electronic passes and two using coin collection.

“With electronic tolling, capacity increases to 900, it’s now 500 an hour during peak times,” Bridge Manager Linda Shames said. “But a simulation model shows that even if we increase capacity to that extent over the bridge, the four-way stop becomes a constraint (on traffic flow).”

But port officials said they already know it won’t relieve pressure of traffic backing up on the interstate highway because of a pilot project conducted last summer.

Exit 64 is part of ODOT’s Interchange Access Management Plan to upgrade the ramps. The planning stage is still underway. Stallman said the agency is now looking at combining plans for Exits 62, 63, and 64.

“Because of a state requirement to protect investments required for all new improvements,” she said.

She explained that ODOT doesn’t want to finish planning for one exit just to find out that the needs in the area have accelerated past the finished project. Part of its scope is considering the interaction between the interstate, city, and Columbia River. Stallman said the process is expected to be finished by next March with construction going out to bid in 2008 and starting in 2009.

Shames and Port Executive Director Michael McElwee said the port was interested in knowing what the state could do to alleviate the congestion especially between now and the time the interchange is upgraded because of safety issues.

“There are certain pinch points where it is an issue,” said McElwee. “It’s a challenging situation.”

Shames said during the summer months additional traffic from fruit harvest, logging trucks, tourists and recreation adds to the regular commuting traffic between Hood River and White Salmon.

Hood River County Administrator Dave Meriwether said issues for the county include the proposed casino at Cascade Locks that would require a new interchange to access it, Highway 35, and potential effects from development caused by Measure 37 claims.

“Some (traffic) issues may come even without Measure 37,” Meriwether said.

Hood River City Manager Bob Francis said some of the issues impacting regional traffic would be the expansion of Providence Memorial Hospital and the new Columbia Gorge Community College campus. He also brought up traffic traveling through town north to Cascade Avenue.

Nick Kraemer, special projects manager for the Port of Cascade Locks, said the recent decision by Union Pacific Railroad to deny the port’s preliminary engineering plan for a marine park underpass have set planning back to phase one.

“It turns out the railroad has long-term plans for running double tracks clear through (Cascade Locks) and said they can’t even take away one of the side tracks during the construction phase,” Kraemer said.

Craig Schmidt, of the Hood River Chamber of Commerce, brought up the issue of the visitor’s center looking to relocate. He inquired if there was any possibility of a site on the scenic byway. The visitor’s center is being relocated due to its current home, the Expo Center, being developed for commercial reuse by the Port of Hood River.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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