Building Bridges: Aging local spans must be considered part of a national problem

Hood River port officials held a wide-ranging conversation about bridges and highways Saturday morning with U.S. Rep Greg Walden.

The protracted, unfunded, planning process for replacing the aging Hood River Interstate bridge came up, with Port Commissioner Jon Davies telling Walden, “There’s no real champion to take on our new bridge. From the Port’s view this is not a Port issue; it’s a regional issue.”

He’s right. But only half right: it’s a national issue.

The hundreds of thousands of dollars the port has been and is now spending on bridge welding repairs, replacement of bridge decks (what the vehicles drive on) and re-painting is a reflection of a far greater issue: the nation’s serious infrastructure problem.

Everywhere, not just Hood River and Cascade Locks, bridges and highways are failing.

Davies, fellow commissioner Rich McBride and port Executive Director Michael McElwee urged Walden to consider the federal government’s role in replacing the Interstate and Bridge of the Gods. The solution would also include the Gorge Commission, Mid-Columbia Council of Governments, state agencies on both sides of the river, and the ports.

“We need someone to say, ‘You guys take the lead and push for the new bridge,’ because at some point it needs to happen,” Davies said.

Walden acknowledged that past decisions over ownership and responsibility “doesn’t take away from the fact that this bridge was built in 1927 and is going to need to be replaced.” Walden pointed to the Hood River bridge’s narrowness as well as the age, “and the need for continual maintenance.”

Companies on both sides of the river feel the effects when any cross-Columbia bridge is closed or affected by weight reductions, pointing to the distinct economic interest that should drive a bi-state solution.

It not a border issue, but regional issue requiring a federal role.

“Our bridge is an orphan as far as ODOT is concerned,” Davies noted. The departments of transportation in Oregon and Washington are not officially part of the bi-state commission for long-range planning for the interstate bridge, and that’s a situation that needs to change. The bridge is a vital link between the two states.

But the responsibility does not end there.

“We think it’s appropriate for the federal government to take a role at some level,” Davies told Walden, adding that any new federal transportation bill “should have a piece directed at these old bridges.”

The two-state junction of aging, well-used bridges makes the Gorge a good candidate for a place to start a real conversation about the overall issue of repairing our nation’s bridges and highways. Walden could convene a white paper gathering of federal, state and local officials to examine how to fund these projects in the near and distant future.

The reality is that without some kind of aggressive steps by the federal government, the aging metal bridges of Hood River County will not be replaced before our grandchildren become drivers.

Finally, how you get people to and from the bridges is part of the problem. The freeway stretch fronting Hood River is a busy one with three separate exits and a congested interface with downtown Hood River streets. Pieces of Interstate 84 in and around Hood River have been repaired or replaced in the last two years, but what keeps cropping up are serious repair issues such as the 2-foot hole that opened up near exit 63 last summer.

Port officials told Walden Saturday that one way to ameliorate damage to the freeway between mileposts 61 and 64 would be to get ODOT to reduce the maximum speed to 55 or 60 just as you see in Portland, Troutdale and Salem as the freeway passes through those urban settings.

The fact is that 84 passes through an urban setting in Hood River, and slowing traffic to 55 mph for three miles is a wise step in the right direction.

It will take a combination of policy, behavior and funding changes to preserve and improve our vital infrastructure.

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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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