Information overload is a thing and those who attended the Port of Hood River workshop/panel discussion on bridge replacement were in for it.
On Jan. 18, the the Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners hosted a public forum to figure out the best course of action and next steps to take to replace the Hood River/White Salmon Bridge.
The panel was made up of three experts with experience in infrastructure projects: Lowell Clary, the president of Clary Consultation in Tallahassee, Fla., and a former public official who has worked on traditional and public-private partnerships (P3) in infrastructure projects; Phillippe Rapin, vice president of infrastructure for Mott MacDonald, San Francisco, Calif., who has international expertise in P3 projects; and David Klinges, managing director for Piper Jaffray, Philadelphia, Pa., and a financial expert on P3 Projects.
Also, in attendance were members of industries on both sides of the Columbia River, a quorum of the White Salmon City Council including Mayor Dave Poucher, as well as Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes, and Hood River Mayor Paul Black-burn.
The workshop/panel discussion began with a brief history of the bridge and its ownership and then an update on where the port is in the bridge replacement process today.
Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee reiterated the Oregon legislation story that has opened the opportunity for P3 projects as long as a set of rules are implemented and followed.
“The port commission is looking over a draft of those rules right now and we hope to implement them by April, “ said McElwee.
“This is the first of many steps necessary regarding replacing the bridge,” he added.
McElwee presented an organizational chart (that will be updated as time goes on and progress is made), which maps out what the port believes are the next steps going forward.
According to the chart, the next step in the port commission’s view is to have an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) done. Kevin Greenwood recently hired as a project director for the port, will be involved in this process.
“Once the EIS is conducted, we can move forward. The panel assembled here today is to help us understand when we will be ready to accept project proposals and what routes we have available to us,” said McElwee.
The workshop/panel moved on to a brief presentation from Lowell Clary, who described the pros and cons to “Traditional Delivery” of infrastructure projects and P3s.
The most common form of a Traditional Delivery is the Design-Bid-Build (DBB) process. First, an engineer or architect is hired to design the project and estimate cost and time. Once the designs are completed, a request for bids is put out to contractors. Once a contractor is found work can begin. In theory, this is the most cost-effective method, however, it is also the slowest and most risky regarding a quality final product. The key benefit of this process regarding the bridge is that the owners of the bridge manage everything.
A P3, otherwise known as a Public-Private Partnership, has only recently become accessible in the United States and is immensely popular in Europe and Canada. According to archtoolbox.com, a P3 is, “a delivery model that involves a contract established between a government entity and a private corporation to fund, construct/renovate, and usually operate and maintain public infrastructure. In return, the private entity will receive income that is generated from the project (for a pre-determined time) to pay back, and eventually profit from, the investment.”
There are three types of P3 models and all would require a “Project Champion.” In the case of the bridge, multiple, “champions” would be needed due to it being a bi-state bridge and its location on a federal waterway.
Type A is Design-Build-Operate-Maintain, type B is Design-Build- Finance-Operate-Maintain and type C is Design-Build Finance-Operate-Maintain-Toll. What makes these models popular is, “taxpayers are relieved of some or all of the burden related to project funding. Private entities are typically seen to provide greater expertise and efficiency in construction and operation than the public sector (as there is profit motivation). The public entity can still provide regulation over the operation of the infrastructure to help maintain proper operation (i.e. tolls),” according to archtoolbox.com.
Like the traditional model, however, there are still risks. P3 models allow those risks to be mitigated through the partnerships. To that end, finding a good partnership is key.
Following this presentation, the panel was opened to questions by the port commission and to those invited to attend the workshop. Surprisingly there were no questions or comments from the public, though a significant amount of time was set aside for it.
Many of the commission prepared questions and answers bled into each other, some answers created more questions, such as: “Which is the right path for us traditional or P3? Can we afford to do this replacement? And how long will it take? For those on the Washington side, a fourth question is, how, when and will we ever benefit from the bridge?”
White Salmon Mayor Dave Poucher suggested forming a “bi-state bridge coalition” that would put all its energy and focus on replacing the bridge.
“This would allow Washington, and really White Salmon and Bingen, to have some ownership of the bridge,” said Poucher.
According to the panel, that would need to be approved by both states legislation and would possibly take an act of Congress.
To answer some of the remaining questions, regarding funding, there are many options, each with its own set of risks. The bottom line, however, is that to fully fund a bridge replacement, the money will need to come from multiple entities. Federal funding is unlikely in the current political climate, not to mention it could inhibit innovation.
When the initial EIS has concluded, which may take two years, the port commission along with the Hood River County and Klickitat County Commissioners, all the city councils, and a regional representative will come together and decide whether to go the traditional or P3 route. Overall it may take 5-10 years to replace the bridge, barring politics or anything else complicating things.
In their final comments, the panelists indicated that the Port of Hood River is on the right track with conducting its research and their pace with replacing the bridge.
“You are on the right track in the long process. I believe the next steps are to have the final EIS conducted and then a traffic assessment, which will give you more information on which course to pursue regarding a traditional or P3 approach to replacing the bridge. I strongly encourage you to remain as transparent as possible as you go through this process,” said Rapin.
“Continue doing your homework and research, lay out a schedule for each next step and continue to seek out public comment and engage in public outreach,” said Clary.
“First of all, good on you for holding this discussion, it levels the playing field and creates a general understanding which is important going forward. Continue to seek out both public and expert input. Next steps from my point of view, get the EIS done and start getting legal and financial teams in place,” said Klinges.