Tuesday, March 28, 2023
March 28, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Like I-5, Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge needs to be replaced

Span over Columbia River connecting Washington, Oregon vital to that region, officials say

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
A rendering shows the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge replacement, which, like the proposed I-5 project, would allow for bikes and pedestrians to cross the river safely.
A rendering shows the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge replacement, which, like the proposed I-5 project, would allow for bikes and pedestrians to cross the river safely. (Courtesy of Michael Shannon) Photo Gallery

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A green, 100-year-old drawbridge with narrow lanes spanning the Columbia River is in dire need of replacement.

Yes, this describes the Interstate 5 Bridge, but it also describes the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge, commonly referred to as the Hood River Bridge, a grated deck two-lane bridge 70 miles east of Vancouver connecting the towns for which the bridge is named.

Originally built to transport cattle, horse-drawn carriages and automobiles, the bridge today is known for being the place where side-view mirrors go to die, sideswiped by vehicles, often trucks, going in the other direction. Savvy drivers fold in their mirrors to prevent them from ending up on the bottom of the Columbia River.

More significantly, the bridge is seismically deficient. The rickety structure’s speed limit has been lowered to 15 miles per hour, although drivers may feel the urge to speed up to get off the bridge faster.

Luckily it’s not the busiest bridge on the river. The Hood River Bridge carries in a year what the I-5 Bridge carries in about a month. Its replacement cost is significantly less than the I-5 crossing from Vancouver to Portland, $520 million compared with $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion. But Michael Shannon, project director of the Hood River Bridge replacement, believes it’s just as important to the Hood River-White Salmon region as I-5 is to the Portland-Vancouver region.

Like the I-5 Bridge, the bridge upriver is a bistate replacement effort, this one led by the Port of Hood River and Klickitat County.

The plan is to replace the structure with a concrete two-lane, fixed-span bridge with an attached bike and pedestrian path running side-by-side to traffic, which the current bridge lacks.

The project schedule is ahead of the I-5 Bridge replacement by about a year, with completion as early as 2029. If that schedule holds, it will be the newest bridge connecting Oregon and Washington since the northbound span of the Interstate 82 Umatilla Bridge was built 35 years ago.

Why it needs to be replaced

The Hood River Bridge today is weight-restricted, seismically deficient like the I-5 Bridge and its quality has deteriorated to the point where it is functionally obsolete, meaning that it does not have adequate features such as lane and shoulder width to serve current traffic demand. The bridge’s sufficiency rating, a rating from zero to 100, fell from slightly less than 50 a few years ago to about a six now, according to Shannon.

Shannon said pieces of the bridge have either reached the end of their useful lives, need to be replaced or are broken and not repairable.

“It’s gotten to the point where we’re putting more and more money into that structure and it’s not economical,” Shannon said. “We’re not going to get it to where it needs to be and it’s at the point where we really need to make that investment in a new structure.”

If construction of the new bridge is not underway by 2026, the existing bridge will need $50 million in repairs and rehabilitation over the next 15 years to safely operate, according to port documents.

Funding sources

The replacement is expected to cost $520 million and has secured $95 million in funding, including $75 million from Washington as part of the Move Ahead Washington transportation bill. Officials were seeking $125 million and are hoping that they will receive an additional sum from the Legislature.

Officials anticipate receiving a similar-sized contribution from the Oregon Legislature this session.

One hurdle with the Washington appropriation is that it isn’t scheduled to be appropriated until the early 2030s, said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, who represents White Salmon and is the ranking member on the transportation committee. He is working to move that money up to 2024 or 2025. However, the replacement project is competing with other projects throughout the state.

Although light rail is not part of the discussion, tolls are. Crossing the bridge has always required payment, with the amount fluctuating over the years. At present, the cost is $1 for cars with fast passes and $2 for those without. Other vehicles pay different prices.

Shannon anticipates receiving $75 million to $100 million from a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan from the federal government, commonly referred to as a TIFIA loan. The loan would provide up-front money to the replacement and could be repaid over the years by tolls.

In early January, the port presented a set of tolling price scenarios, most of which increase the cost of tolls, to the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Additionally, officials hope to receive around $200 million from the federal government through various grants.

Next steps

Shannon sees this spring as a significant target for the project. Completing the environmental policy review, finalizing the design and selecting a contractor by then would move the replacement into what’s called the engineering phase, enabling construction to begin in early 2025.

The differences between the I-5 and Hood River bridge replacements are glaring in size and scope, but they share a key commonality: Both function as vital bistate arteries that allow their regions to function.

“As vital as the I-5 Bridge to Vancouver and Portland is,” King said, “I would submit that the Hood River Bridge is just as vital to the cities of Hood River, Bingen and White Salmon as well as Klickitat County and Hood River County.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.