The progress of the Bi-State Working Group had Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners in a self-congratulatory mood June 1.

The two groups are working together to establish an Oregon-Washington ownership of the new bridge that will one day replace the 100-year-old Hood River-White Salmon Bridge, now owned by the Port of Hood River.

The year-old Bi-State Working Group (BSWG) is made up of collaborators from Oregon and Washington including representatives from Klickitat and Hood River counties, the cities of Bingen, Hood River, and White Salmon, and the Port of Hood River.

Oregon-Washington bridge

Progress is being made to establish an Oregon-Washington ownership of a new bridge over the Columbia River in Hood River, replacing the existing bridge, above, which is 100 years old.

June 1, port commissioners adopted bridge strategies endorsed by the BSWG. That step, along with $50,000 from the state of Washington’s transportation funds, will move the group closer to creating a standalone, bi-state entity for the financing and operations of the replacement bridge, according to Kevin Greenwood, Port of Hood River Bridge Replacement project director

Although the port is the current bridge’s owner, the group is working to create a different owner for the new bridge, most likely a bi-state authority that evolves from the BSWG. The recent Washington State grant helps pay for legal work to create that authority so that it can issue bonds for bridge construction, collect tolls, and seek state and federal grants and loans. The Joint Transportation Committee in the Washington Legislature is expected to consider that possibility in September, and later, a similar Oregon legislative committee will do the same.

Visiting lobbyists from Washington and Oregon states, and Washington D.C., applauded the BSWG’s work to bring the north and south shores of the proposed bridge together. The three lobbyists reported June 1 on their efforts so far to raise money for the bridge at the state and federal levels.

“It’s an amazing working relationship,” said Brian Boswell, a consultant from Washington State.

“It’s helpful at the federal level that both states are contributing,” added Hal Hiemstra, a D.C. strategist.

Dan Bates, lobbying for the bridge in the Oregon Legislature, said that Hood River’s state Legislators, Sen. Chuck Thompson (R-Dist. 26) and Rep. Anna Williams (D-Dist. 52) have been “great champions.”

Estimates to remove and replace the century-old bridge are currently at $400 million. Work began in earnest three years ago with a $5 million Oregon transportation grant, followed by another $5 million each from the Washington State Legislature and a federal BUILD grant. The Port of Hood River has also committed $1.25 million to the project.

Enthusiasm for the Bi-State Working Group has increased as the organization has grown from an October 2020 Memo of Understanding, establishing how the members would work together with the port, to June 1’s adopted “Strategy Principles,” summarized below.

The BSWG currently includes Betty Barnes, mayor, City of Bingen; John Everitt, commissioner, Port of Hood River; Marla Keethler, mayor, City of White Salmon; Kate McBride, mayor, City of Hood River; Jake Anderson, commissioner, Klickitat County; and Bob Benton, commissioner, Hood River County. That membership may change in July, as some members are not returning to their previous political positions, but the position descriptions will remain the same.

The Bi-State Working Group and the Port’s strategies governing the bridge replacement are summarized as follows:

Continue collaboration with the Bi-State Working Group

Increase community, state and federal support

Demonstrate project readiness

Assemble a highly-experienced project team

Prepare transition of leadership from the Port of Hood River to another entity

Evaluate project options and recommend the best approach

The Port of Hood River’s five-member Board of Commissioners next meets June 22, the last meeting for John Everitt (Position 2), David Meriwether (Position 3), neither of whom ran for re-election. Commissioners in July will swear in two new members — Heather Gearing to Position 2, Mike Fox to Position 3, and Benjamin Sheppard, who was reelected to Position 1.