Toll increase aproved for Hood River Bridge

October 22, 2011

Beginning Jan. 1, a toll increase for the Hood River Interstate Bridge will raise the one-way rate for regular cash customers to $1 - a 33-percent bump from the 75-cent rate that has been in effect since 1994.

A discount of 25 percent will be given to BreezeBy customers, making a trip across the bridge 75 cents for those who take advantage of the electronic toll system. Ticket books will also be available at a discount of 20 percent off the $1 rate. The rate for motorcycles will be 75 cents and trucks will be $1 per axle, with the same discounted rates available.

With little deliberation, the Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on the toll increase Tuesday; a decision that had been pending for several months. Earlier this year the board approved its annual budget, which included assumed revenue from a toll increase beginning in the new year. The port expects the fee increase to contribute an additional $600,000 annually, which will be designated to future bridge repair and maintenance costs.

The rate increase was sparked by budget committee recommendations and an engineering study completed early this year that explored long-term capital maintenance costs necessary to keep the bridge in safe and operational for at least 30 more years.

Opened in 1924, the bridge was found to have deficiencies, but is in remarkably good condition for its age, the study noted. Still, maintenance costs are expected to increase, with $30 million in projects estimated through 2040.

Although the commission is exploring design options for a bridge replacement, the roughly $200 million price tag for the project is a serious roadblock that will not likely be negotiated for many years.

The new port resolution states that funds derived from bridge toll increases in both 1994 and 2010 will be diverted into the port's bridge repair and replacement fund. That fund, as stated in the resolution (No. 1011-12-1), "is necessary to … provide additional revenue for future bridge expenditures and to maintain adequate financial reserves for port functions."

Present at Tuesday's meeting were Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz and City Councilor Jeff Nichols. Both gave public testimony in support of the toll increase, but with encouragement that revenue from the toll increase be designated solely for bridge repair and maintenance and not other port functions.

Babitz said he had received numerous public comments about the toll increase, and that people seem to be understanding about the need to raise more money for increasing bridge maintenance costs.

"When I explain it to them, people's reaction seems to be, 'Oh, that makes sense; but how do we know that is how the money is going to be spent?'" Babitz said to the commission.

Nichols had a similar request for transparency of funds and maintenance-only use of the increased revenue.

Following those comments the commission voted to approve the toll increase. They did not, however, deliberate on wording in a section of the resolution that leaves a back door open for use of the net revenue from the toll increase on port debt expenses not associated with the bridge.

The section states, "Resolved, that the use of revenues derived from the 1994 and 2012 toll increases shall be limited to (a) payment of any expense associated with the bridge … and (b) payment of any expense (including without limitation payment of debt service, premium costs, and issuance costs) or meeting any other requirement associated with borrowings authorized by the Port Board of Commissioners."

Michael McElwee, port executive director, said language in that section is intended to allow for possible future loans by the port, with bridge toll revenue as a backing for the loan.

"When looking ahead, we don't know what situations will occur," McElwee said. "To borrow money, we need to be able to back up a loan with assets. The point is not to open the door to future spending; it's to provide suitable language to be able to backstop a loan with that revenue."

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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 to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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