A previous version of this article incorrectly identified WSP project leader Angela Findley.
The previous version also incorrectly stated that the new bridge would have a movable lift. The new bridge will have a fixed span.
Project team hopes for Record of Decision by summer 2021
Coordinators for the Hood River-White Salmon Bridge Replacement Project held their first open house to get community input on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) portion of the project back in December 2018; last week, almost exactly two years later, coordinators invited the public to talk with them again — this time via Zoom. In total, 37 people logged on to learn about the finished Supplemental Draft EIS and ask questions about the bridge replacement effort.
“While we wish we could gather in person, we’re happy to see so many people attend virtually tonight and I’m glad that everybody made an effort to be here,” said Project Director Kevin Greenwood.
The EIS is a document required under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) that identifies all agencies involved in the project and how they will coordinate with each other, evaluates the impacts and benefits of the project and explores alternatives.
The Port of Hood River, with help from the Federal Highways Administration and the Oregon Department of Transportation, released the Supplemental Draft EIS for the Hood River-White Salmon Bridge Replacement Project on Nov. 20. The document updates and expands upon a draft EIS developed back in 2003.
The project team will gather community feedback on the Supplemental Draft EIS through Jan. 4. After that comment period ends, the project team will add that feedback into the report and assemble it with the Supplemental Draft and the 2003 Draft EIS to create a Final Draft EIS, which will then be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval. If approved, the EPA will issue an official Record of Decision, which allows the project team to start applying for construction permits and look for additional sources of funding.
The project team hopes to have the Record of Decision in hand by summer 2021.
“We’ve really met and reached a major milestone with the Supplemental Draft EIS,” said Greenwood. “…We are eager to replace this aging, obsolete bridge, and this release this month is really the continued advancement, getting us one step forward in the project.”
While the project team is far from releasing a finalized design for the new bridge, the Supplemental Draft EIS includes conceptual designs and tentative placements for the new fixed-span bridge and plans for a 12-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle lane on one side of the bridge.
Physical construction is estimated to take roughly six years: Three years to build the new bridge and transfer traffic over, and another three years to dismantle the old bridge. “Some of that duration is associated with … having the higher-impact activities constrained to what are known as ‘in-water work windows,’” said Angela Findley, one of the project leaders with WSP USA, Inc., the engineering group contracted to help finish all of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for the project. “Those are seasons that both the Washington and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife set for times where there are fewer fish, particularly juvenile fish, in the river for projects like this to have adverse affects.”
Because the bridge, constructed in 1928, qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places and is thus subject to additional federal regulations, the project team is working with the state officials to “develop appropriate mitigation,” said Findley.
In addition to questions about the historic resource impact of the project and requests for clarifications on the bike and pedestrian path, community members asked questions about toll rates, and how bridge management will accommodate low-income travelers.
“It’s anticipated that the current exception on buses and mass transit will be continued on the new bridge but as far as the tolling, there’s a number of issues that simply haven’t been identified, and one is the cost of the new bridge,” said Greenwood. “Everything is so preliminary in nature at this point that we simply don’t know, we don’t have a good representation of the cost for the new bridge, which is critical for knowing what the tolls will be.” Greenwood added that they will continue to look at state and federal grants, which could be a major factor in determining the toll need. “But at this point, we will probably be looking at traffic and revenue analysis, which will be a component of tolling, in the next year, and so we do plan on starting that process.”
Findley added that the Supplemental Draft EIS includes some examples of mitigation options, such as reduced tolls and waived account fees. “None of that will be decided at this point,” she said. “We’re just keeping the door open and encouraging people to stay engaged with the project and be part of that discussion.”
Members of the public with an interest in the bridge — be they residents or travelers who frequent the area — are encouraged to submit their public comment to the Port of Hood River before Jan. 4. Comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, by mail to Port of Hood River (Attn: Kevin Greenwood), 1000 E. Port Marina Drive, Hood River, OR 97031, or over the phone at 833-215-2352 (please leave your comment as a voicemail).
All comments will be published as a part of the FEIS.
The EIS Working Group, which consists of representatives from both sides of the river, will be meeting again in early 2020 and the meetings are open to the public. Greenwood encouraged people interested in attending to keep an eye on the Port of Hood River website for a meeting notice once the date and time have been set.
To submit a comment, learn more about the bridge and the replacement project — and to view the entire Supplemental Draft EIS — visit portofhoodriver.com/bridge/bridge-replacement-project.
Local libraries also have copies of the Supplemental Draft EIS available for viewing, and digital or printed copies can be requested from the Port of Hood River by calling 541-961-9517.