CL Port to hold town hall meeting on toll increases

Repairs to restore the Bridge of the Gods’ 40-ton weight limit were completed last month and big trucks and buses are now back on the bridge, shuttling people and supplies up and down the Columbia River Gorge.

With the bridge running at full capacity once again, the Port of Cascade Locks can now refocus its attention on raising funds for the long-term care, maintenance, and eventual replacement of the 88-year-old bridge it owns — which will likely mean raising tolls.

The Cascade Locks Port Commission will be holding a town hall meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Marine Park Pavilion in Cascade Locks to seek public input on a proposed toll hike for certain vehicles that use the 1,858-foot bridge in the heart of the Gorge.

The proposed increases are primarily targeted at heavier vehicles that produce more wear and tear on the bridge and would not affect the toll currently charged to the drivers of passenger cars and pickups, which is $1. Under the proposal, tolls assessed to motor homes, trucks, buses and commercial trailers would double from $1 per axle to $2 per axle. Dual-wheeled pickups, formerly charged a flat fee of $2 to cross the bridge, would see tolls rise to $2 per axle. Motorcycle tolls would also get bumped up from 50 cents to $1 and non-commercial trailer tolls would rise from 50 cents per axle to $1 per axle. Tolls for pedestrians and bicycles, which are currently 50 cents, would remain the same.

The port commission has also proposed increasing tolls 25 cents per axle on trucks and buses once every two years starting Jan. 1, 2016. There is also a suggestion that “local residents” be allowed to receive a 25-percent discount, although the parameters of “local” have yet to be defined.

The port says it needs the boost in revenue to “ensure sufficient funding” for its Bridge Preservation, Repair and Replacement Fund and notes that the “increases are in recognition of the cost of repairs, operation and administration” of the bridge. According to News archives, the Bridge of the Gods has not seen a toll increase since Jan. 1, 2003.

The port received $1.4 million from the State Transportation Improvement Plan back in August 2013 to repair the bridge after the Oregon Department of Transportation identified dozens of corroding bridge features that either needed to be repaired or replaced before the structure could be restored to its original weight restrictions. As part of an addendum agreement with ODOT — which administered the repair job — the port has to develop a 10-year maintenance and operations program for bridge upkeep that includes proposed projects ranging from bridge repainting to lighting improvements to toll booth automation. Money for these projects would come from the port’s bridge preservation fund, with estimated annual expenditures of $200,000 to $300,000.

If approved, the toll increases are proposed to go into effect by April 1, 2014. Those with questions can contact the port at 541-374-8619.

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