In an effort to help alleviate one of the area's most serious traffic congestion areas -- the Exit 64 interchange where motorists leave Interstate 84 to cross the bridge to Washington -- the Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners has authorized limited suspension of Hood River Interstate Bridge tolls during the most crowded times.
Starting Friday, Aug. 4, bridge toll takers were authorized to temporarily suspend northbound bridge tolls when heavy traffic back-ups occur. By allowing traffic to pass through the bridge's tollbooth without stopping to pay toll, the Port hopes to reduce traffic congestion.
"Anyone who travels on Interstate 84 between downtown Hood River's Second Street and Exit 64 understands the problem," says Michael McElwee, port executive director. "Vehicles stack up, and a dangerous backup often extends into active freeway vehicle lanes. The problem is most pronounced in the busy summer season," he explains.
Toll suspension during peak traffic times will operate on a trial basis for August, giving the Port the opportunity to evaluate its impact. Toll suspensions will not occur everyday and will only be used when necessary.
Tolls for northbound traffic may be lifted at the discretion of the booth attendant when vehicles are backed up to the four-way intersection directly south of the bridge. When traffic is cleared, tolls will resume.
The temporary toll suspension measures will be evaluated over the next few weeks to determine if traffic congestion is alleviated. Motorists are highly encouraged to exercise caution at all times as they drive through the Exit 64 underpass.
Looking ahead, the port recognizes that the toll booth may be only a limited factor in contributing to area congestion. Exit 64 itself is due to be reconstructed in 2008 by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
This project will add new traffic lanes and signals, realign freeway ramps and widen the existing road from two to four lanes.
In addition, the Port plans to install new automated toll lanes to reduce tollbooth bottlenecks, a project expected to begin in November.
New north and southbound express lanes will be added, and commuters will have the chance to set up an account with the port so that they can pay tolls electronically in advance. Lanes will be available for manual cash toll payments, too.
For more information, contact the Port at (541) 386-1645, or visit the Port online at www.portofhoodriver.com.