Work this month around the north side of the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge may look like construction is beginning to the proposed new bridge, but it’s not. Boring equipment is being used to take core samples as part of an archeological survey of the area around the landing at the Washington end of the proposed new bridge.
Still, the survey is an indicator that bridge work is progressing. Kevin Greenwood, bridge replacement project director, reported to the Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners this month that testing for historical or tribal artifacts is “due diligence.” It is one of many tests, reports and surveys being assembled so that construction to replace the 1924 span over the Columbia River can move forward.
The condition of the bridge is dire enough that new weight limits were put into place March 2 by the Oregon Department of Transportation, reducing some truck commerce. In addition to new bridge plans, port officials are looking into restoring the bridge’s previous capacity. Engineering the repairs alone will take several months, according to Port Director Michael McElwee.
The most recent archeological survey is part of the current draft Environmental Impact Statement required by the Oregon, Washington and federal agencies that will oversee the new bridge construction. The final statement, including the impact of the preferred pathway of the new bridge, is due to be published by August, Greenwood said. Details will include the potential effects of the proposed bridge alignment on dozens of community and environmental activities, from air quality, to noise, to fishing, water quality, navigation and aesthetics.
March 4, a working group made up of officials from Oregon and Washington cities and counties connected by the bridge, met to hear highlights of public response.
More than 150 people commented in public meetings, via emails, or in surveys over the course of the comment period that ended Jan. 4. Public input is being used to revise the draft report, and address problems.
Most people preferred the proposed "Alternative EC-2" for its ease of access. It is the design that most closely follows the current path of the bridge.
A third of the comments revolved around the shared-use path across the new bridge, suggesting improvements such as separate lanes for bikers and walkers, or paths on both sides of the bridge.
Eight percent of the responses listed concerns or suggestions about design features that would impact wind protection and speed limits.
Seven percent of those responding requested union labor for construction.
Six percent of the commenters asked that the bridge be aesthetically pleasing, to match the beauty of the Gorge.
Five percent of the comments surrounded concerns with bridge tolls.
Other commenters expressed support for the new bridge or bemoaned the lengthy permitting process and slow construction schedule. Concerns about fishing treaty rights, Tribal engagement and water quality during construction were also raised.
After the final draft of the Impact Statement is completed this fall, the working group will meet again to plan next steps, including review of reports on impact to endangered species, and possibly, construction details. Construction of the new bridge, once it begins, is estimated to take three years. The old bridge will be dismantled after the new one is online.
Links and updates on the bridge can be seen at portofhoodriver.com/bridge/bridge-replacement-project.