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Highway Needs

“You have in the Columbia Highway the most remarkable engineering in the United States, which for scenic grandeur is not equaled anywhere.”  Theodore Roosevelt

        What Are the Needs of the Highway?

The Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway want the highway to be in great shape and fully continuous for the 100th Anniversary of the dedication of the highway in 2016.  “Fully continuous” means that you can bicycle from Troutdale to The Dalles (on the existing Historic Columbia River Highway, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail or connecting county roads) without traveling on Interstate 84.

There are currently long gaps between the existing drivable portions of the historic highway, and our goal is to support reconnection of these portions of the highway with additional links of the HCRH State Trail (see Reconnection Needs below) to the extent feasible.  The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is a paved pedestrian and bicycle trail.  Additionally, without continued restoration, the existing historic highway will continue to deteriorate in the harsh weather of the Columbia River Gorge (see Restoration Needs below).

Moss covered pavement near Lindsey Creek
to be used in future HCRH State Trail project

While state and federal legislation describe restoration and reconnection of the HCRH as goals, sufficient funding to complete this work has not been secured.  Approximately $20 million has been expended, but an additional $50 million is estimated to be needed. 

As gas prices increase, people minimize their costs by driving less or buying more fuel efficient cars.  Since the current state and federal transportation funds are tied to the number of gallons of gas sold, this leads to less gas tax revenues.  In addition, construction costs for transportation projects have increased faster than inflation.  Taken together, there are fewer projects that can be constructed with transportation funds and large un-met needs.  With the large number of transportation needs in Oregon, it is not surprising that many are unfunded, with bicycle projects normally being competitive only for designated bicycle and Transportation Enhancement funds.  Funding sources other than gas tax revenues are needed to construct the HCRH State Trail projects.

         How the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway Plan to Help

The Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway will be a private voice, able to lobby for funding for restoration and reconnection of the highway with administrative and legislative bodies.  The FHCRH plans to pursue raising funds from foundations and other sources that are not available to governmental agencies.  The presence of a private organization working in behalf of the Highway will bolster government efforts.  (Currently, there are only two people in state government with primary responsibility for the highway, one at Oregon Department of Transportation and one at Oregon Parks and Recreation Department).

         Restoration Needs                 

                  Larch Mountain Road to Latourell

Western Federal Lands Highway Division of Federal Highway Administration has completed a Project Investigation Report outlining the restoration needs for the section of the historic highway between Larch Mountain Road and Latourell.  This document outlines $6 million worth of restoration and maintenance of rock retaining walls, rubble masonry parapet walls and other period features of the Highway.  Many of the retaining walls are missing the “chinking” stones between the major stones, weakening the walls.  Some of the arched rock walls (parapet walls) are out of alignment or missing mortar.  Spindles on bridge railings are cracked.  Gutters have been filled and drainage is seeping into the fill under the pavement. 

Damaged spindles needing repair

                  Chenoweth Creek Bridge

The original concrete railing on this bridge was replaced with a metal guardrail more than 20 years ago.  This project would widen the bridge slightly and install a replica of the original railing, restoring this eastern gateway of the highway.  Estimated cost - $500,000.

         Reconnection Needs

The Historic Columbia River Highway Master Plan recommends reconnecting the portions of the highway that are open to motor vehicle traffic with a paved hiking and biking trail, known as the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (“HCRH State Trail”), except for the area between Cascade Locks and Wyeth (see footnote 1 below).  The sections of the HCRH State Trail between Moffett Creek and Cascade Locks and between Hood River and Mosier are currently open.

Moffett Creek to Cascade Locks Section - HCRH State Trail

                  Warrendale to Moffett Creek - HCRH State Trail

This is the “missing link” between the end of the drivable section of the highway at Warrendale and the end of the western 5-mile section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.  Once this gap has been completed, a bicyclist would be able to travel from Troutdale to Cascade Locks without riding on the Interstate 84 shoulder.  This section of the State Trail is complicated, however, by the steep topography and the location of the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 84.  One option would be to continue the route of the trail between the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 84, requiring multiple retaining walls and a long bridge over McCord Creek.  A second option would be south of Interstate 84, but would need to cross several unstable talus slopes.  Cost estimate for north side option - $9,000,000.

               Mitchell Point to Hood River - HCRH State Trail

The Mitchell Point to Hood River section would create a new recreational opportunity west of Hood River.  Extending from the west end of Westcliff Drive, the State Trail would be located on the slope north of Interstate 84 to above Ruthton Point.  At Ruthton Point it would utilize the original alignment of the highway, including the Ruthton Viaduct and a restored portion of rock wall.  This area has a beautiful view down the Columbia River that is not currently accessible to the public.  From Ruthton Point, the State Trail would again be located on the slope north of Interstate 84, to the exit to the service road.  It would cross under Interstate 84 to the original alignment of the highway, currently being used as access to several homes.  This section would end on the east edge of Mitchell Point.  Estimated cost - $6,100,000,

View from Ruthton Point Viaduct with railing damage

              Mitchell Point Tunnel - HCRH State Trail

Mitchell Point was the location of the “Tunnel of Many Vistas” with five “windows”, patterned after the Axenstrasse in Switzerland.  What remains of the tunnel (a bit of pavement) is currently being used to catch rocks, so that they do not reach Interstate 84 below.  Two options are available here: recreate the tunnel in its original location, incorporating a rockfall catchment to make it safe for users or create a new tunnel to the south of the original alignment.  The tunnel option is currently preferred, because it would be difficult for a catchment to meet the required visual resource requirements (not noticeable from Interstate 84 and the Columbia River).  Estimated cost for Tunnel option - $6,200,000.

Mitchell Point Tunnel

              Viento to Mitchell Point - HCRH State Trail

From Mitchell Point, there is a good section of HCRH pavement currently being used as part of the Wygant Trail.  This 4-mile section of proposed trail would need to address several rockfall hazards, as it continues along the south side of Interstate 84 to its western terminus at Viento State Park.  Estimated cost - $7,400,000.

Wygant Trail

Shellrock Mountain - The HCRH State Trail would need to
be located around the mountain, an unstable rock slope.

                Wyeth to Starvation Creek - HCRH State Trail

This is the most difficult section of the HCRH State Trail, including Shellrock Mountain, which has always been a barrier in the Columbia River Gorge.  The proposal is to connect the small portion of the HCRH that is part of the Wyeth Bench Road, near the Wyeth Campground, through the Wyeth interchange to the shore of the Columbia River, following the shore to a small section of original pavement, north of the Union Pacific Railroad, around Shellrock Mountain to a sloping section of the original highway, which would be used to start the climb for a crossing of the railroad and Interstate 84 to the Lindsey Creek State Park section of the highway.  At the end of the pavement, a new bike path would continue along the south side of Interstate 84, until it would connect with the HCRH pavement currently being used as part of the Mt. Defiance Trail, connecting to Starvation Creek State Park trailhead.  Estimated cost - $16,600,000

      Footnote 1     Connecting County Road (Wyeth Bench Road)

Between Cascade Locks and Wyeth there is little of the original highway remaining.  Interstate 84 and the small remaining piece of HCRH are on a massive landslide; additional construction on this landslide is not advised and so a portion of the HCRH State Trail is not planned for this section.  Therefore, the paved Hood River County road, south of Interstate 84, variously referred to as Wyeth Bench Road or Herman Creek Road will serve as the connection.

      Projects listed in the Oregon Department of Transportation’s
      2006 Master Plan for the highway

Funding the above restoration and reconnection projects is the main focus of the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway.  Other projects have been proposed along the highway.  The figure below from the Historic Columbia River Highway 2006 Master Plan provides a list of all of the unfunded projects proposed.  Since the Master Plan was printed, an emergency project was completed for the Larch Mountain Slide; however, a permanent restoration has not been designed or funded.  Additionally, transportation enhancement funds have been approved to fund the Viento-HCRH State Trail Project. 

The acronyms used include: 

  • ODOT – Oregon Department of Transportation
  • WFLHD – Western Federal Lands Highway Division, Federal Highway Administration
  • OPRD – Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
  • STIP – Statewide Transportation Improvement Program 

For more information on these projects, see the Historic Columbia River Highway Master Plan at http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/HCRH/documents.shtml


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