Wednesday, August 28, 2013
The Port of Cascade Locks has finally received good news regarding the Bridge of the Gods.
On Monday morning, the port received word that $1.4 million in state and federal funding would be allocated toward repairing the 1,858-foot bridge so that the structure’s original load restrictions could be restored and trucks could resume trips over the bridge once again.
The Bridge of the Gods, which spans a portion of the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Stevenson, and North Bonneville, has been under state-mandated load restrictions for the past several months. In March, load restrictions were dropped from 40 tons to 30 tons at certain times of the day per the direction of Oregon Department of Transportation officials, who have been in charge of inspecting the bridge since 2006. ODOT informed the port that the 87-year-old bridge needed to be repaired before the restrictions could be lifted. In July, the load restrictions were tightened up from 30 tons to 8 tons after an ODOT load analysis provided more information about the structural integrity of the bridge. The report showed that approximately 16 gussets and 18-24 stringers —connecting pieces and support beams in lay terms — needed to either be repaired or replaced due to reasons that ranged from rust to corrosion caused by acidic bird feces.
During a special congressional staff bridge briefing held Monday at the port pavilion, Port President Jess Groves informed political staffers and representatives of local municipalities who had been invited to the meeting that the port had been notified by ODOT of the funding approval that morning. “In getting this, we’re on track on getting this bridge work completed by year’s end,” he announced.
The $1.4 million came from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program: Oregon’s statewide four-year transportation capital improvement program that uses a mixture of state and federal dollars to fund a variety of infrastructure improvements and repairs. Interim Port Manager Paul Koch said in an earlier interview the port was originally informed that other than a $200,000 contribution from ODOT, there was no other funding available. The port, along with local and county municipalities and congressional representatives from both sides of the river, made a plea to Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to institute an “economic and safety emergency” for the Gorge, which would free up funding for the bridge repairs.
The emergency was never declared, but Koch said Kitzhaber “did direct ODOT to get this done” and search for alternate funding. Koch explained the $1.4 million windfall came from 2016-18 STIP funds that were “not allocated to any project.” Koch also mentioned during the meeting that 10 other projects around the state would benefit from the unallocated STIP funds. The port will also contribute $170,000 toward finishing the project.
Work is scheduled to begin on the bridge in mid-October, according to Koch. One contractor will handle the gusset work, which will be completed first, and another contractor will start work on the stringers sometime in November. Koch anticipated the bridge would, for the most part, remain open during construction, but noted there may be temporary closures from time to time.
The port is itching to get the bridge reopened to truck traffic not only due to lost revenue, but due to the impact the load restrictions are having on the local economy. At the meeting, staffers with the offices of Gov. Kitzhaber, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden listened to a presentation given by Oregon State University Community Economist Bruce Sorte about the litany of negative economic impacts long-term load restrictions could have, including reduced spending in local communities, increased labor costs, and reduced certainty for business expansion plans.
Darren Nichols, executive director for the Columbia River Gorge Commission, asked Koch and Groves about what the long-term protection plan was for the bridge and stressed the need for updated transportation planning as the National Scenic Area increases in popularity.
“There is no regional transportation plan for this area,” he said. “That is an embarrassment. It’s inexcusable.
“We’re at the apex of destinations in the world and we’re operating on 1988 transportation plans,” Nichols added.
Koch said the port has started a bridge repair and replacement fund in order to address long-term concerns and mentioned that port officials have discussed the possibility of raising bridge tolls to help support the fund. Community meetings are planned to be held some time in the next few months to discuss the issue.
As for the immediate problem facing the Bridge of the Gods, Koch expected the repair job would be completed before the year is over.
“We see no reason why this can’t be done by Dec. 31 of this year,” he said.