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Guest Article: An update from ODOT on the Historic Columbia River Highway

Posted by on May 16th, 2013 at 10:13 am

A tour of the Historic Columbia River Highway

The Historic Columbia River Highway is a bicycling gem.
And it just keeps getting better.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

This guest article was written by ODOT’s Region 1 Transit and Active Transportation Liaison Jessica Horning and ODOT’s Historic Columbia River Highway project coordinator Kristen Stallman.

The Historic Columbia River Highway is one of Oregon’s most popular and scenic destinations regardless of your preferred mode of travel. The 73-mile route from Troutdale to The Dalles provides amazing views of the best the Columbia River Gorge has to offer, from waterfalls to windswept high plains. The highway was constructed in 1913 with a maximum 5 percent grade, making it an ideal route for a long distance bike ride. The Historic Highway is also a designated scenic byway, making it a popular shared route for motorists and bicyclists alike.

In 2013, the Historic Highway will see improvements that will make this scenic gem more accessible, with more opportunities for visitors to enjoy the Gorge by foot, bike, and car.

The Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee and the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway have joined together to advocate for the completion of the State Trail by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Historic Highway.

On May 24th, the section of the Historic Highway between Larch Mountain Road and Latourell Falls will reopen after being closed to all traffic (including people on bikes and foot) sporadically through the winter while repairs were made to the Crown Point Viaduct around Vista House. The Historic Highway will be open with no traffic restrictions for Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27) and then periodic lane closures will resume until repairs are completed in mid-June. These closures may cause delays for all users and result in the highway being more crowded than usual, so please plan ahead and be alert and courteous when sharing the road.

More of these coming soon.
(Photo: ODOT)

Narrow and winding sections of roadway contribute to the Historic Highway’s charm, but can also lead to tension between users, especially during the peak summer months. This spring ODOT will install Share the Road signs in several locations along the Historic Highway between the Sandy River and Vista House to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists. This road is a precious resource that is shared by many users and it is important that we are all respectful and considerate to one another. ODOT is also working with local communities and organizations to increase understanding of proper road-sharing behavior:

  • Motorists should pass cyclists with care when it is safe to do so, and be patient in areas where topography, debris, or the narrow roadway makes it safer for cyclists to ride in the center of the lane.
  • Cyclists should ride to the right and single-file when traffic approaches and allow motorists to pass when the road is wide enough to safely do so.
  • ODOT will be installing “Share the Road” signs at several locations on the Historic Highway and is exploring ways to improve bicycle wayfinding signage.

ODOT is investing in making the Historic Highway an even better place to ride by reconnecting severed sections of the Historic Highway via the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Eleven miles of the Historic Highway are currently preserved as a State Trail for exclusive hiking/biking use. On Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, ODOT will celebrate the grand opening of an additional 1.6-mile section of trail connecting John B. Yeon State Park in Warrendale to the existing restored Historic Highway State Trail at Moffett Creek Bridge that travels to Cascade Locks. Federal funding has been secured to design and construct another gap in the State Trail between Warren Creek and Lindsey Creek in 2015. Another 2.1 mile section of trail connecting Wyeth State Park to Lindsey Creek State Park (across Shellrock Mountain) is currently being considered for funding through ODOT’s 2016-18 State Transportation Improvement Program.

Map by ODOT, click to enlarge.

The McCord Creek Bridge and a new 1.6 mile section of the Historic Highway State Trail will open this summer. This connection will close the “missing link” and allow people to travel via bicycle from Troutdale to Cascade Locks without having to ride on I-84.

McCord Bridge Trail.
(Photo: ODOT)

Once complete, the Historic Highway State Trail will connect communities along the Gorge to many of Oregon’s underdeveloped State Parks. As trail construction continues, a world-class cycling route is being developed in partnership with these small towns by developing relevant mapping and enhancing tourism amenities to cater to the cycling market. In order to share initial successes and the positive economic impact of Historic Highway and State Trail, ODOT produced the film, One Great Road, Many Great Economic Benefits.

At ODOT, we’re excited about the progress on the Historic Highway. Thanks for your patience during construction and we hope to see a lot of you out on your bikes enjoying this state treasure very soon.

Learn more about the Historic Columbia River Highway on ODOT’s website. You can also browse our archives for past coverage.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Joseph E May 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

    ” This connection will close the “missing link” and allow people to travel via bicycle from Troutdale to Cascade Locks without having to ride on I-84.”

    I’m super excited about this!

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  • Garlynn Woodsong May 16, 2013 at 11:05 am

    It’s certainly a great start, though I can’t wait for the ability to ride a bicycle from Troutdale to Hood River without having to ride on I-84; once the missing State Trail components are completed, this really will become one step closer to being a world-class bicycling facility.

    I would also recommend looking into constructing a class I facility to allow bicyclists to travel from Troutdale to Latourelle Falls at the same grade as the freeway, so that some bicyclists could choose to bypass the climb up to Crown Point, if their goal is a day trip out to the waterfalls and back to Portland; this would allow for families to travel by bicycle to the waterfalls with children without needing to drag the children up that climb only to drop down on the other side to the waterfall zone.

    Further, long-range plans should include continuing to extend the State Trail as a separate Class I facility from end to end of the Gorge (Troutdale to Hood River), allowing more bicyclists to ride through this spectacular natural area without having to compete with heavy summertime traffic for scarce real estate on the Historic Highway blacktop…

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    • Chris I May 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      It’s so ridiculous that they would destroy a road for cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, and replace it with one that only serves cars. Why did we let them do this in the 1950s? We are having to spend so much more money now, when they should have just done it right in the first place, and included a MUP as part of the project.

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      • John Russell (jr98664) June 1, 2013 at 10:40 pm

        While I completely understand your point, this stretch of I-84 is actually legally accessible to both bicycles and pedestrians. Still not the best place to take your kids for a bike ride, however.

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  • Scott May 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Can’t wait!

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  • o/o May 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Hope I will be able to ride all the way when it opens.

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  • Michael Wolfe May 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Great news. The stretch of 84 around Shellrock is the hairiest stretch of freeway cyclists have to contend with, so it’s good to see that it’s next in the queue. I had no idea that segments beyond the McCord Creek connection were funded. I love hearing that the ambition is to finish the whole connection by 2016!

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  • PdxMark May 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for the great work on this wonderful project. I have one observation on some of the conflicts between some motorists and cyclists on narrow roads. Some of the most harrowing passing situations arise when a motorist passes a cyclist without crossing a double-yellow center line, even when there is adequate visibility to do so. This seems to be an issue of driver’s not being aware that they can legally cross a double-yellow line to pass a cyclist. It would be great if there was a sign or other educational information to teach drivers about this subtlety in the rules of the road.

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    • longgone May 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

      Thank you MarkofPDX, education for all road users, combined with signage that makes sense is the key.

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  • Steve B May 16, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Sweet! I’ve been holding my breath for those Share the Road signs.. often deployed for construction but rarely placed permanently along ODOT roads. I’m really excited for the new trail segments!

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  • Fred Lifton May 16, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I encounter more than the usual level of hostility on this road, especially between Larch Mtn. road and Troutdale. There are some very self-entitled locals in the area who don’t feel they need to share the public right-of-way. I have been with riders who have literally been told by drivers they are not welcome and should never come back. There is also some jerk who likes rev his diesel right when he passes a cyclist so they are engulfed in black smoke. I sure hope the road improvements will come with more enforcement. I don’t think a “Share the Road” sign is going to deliver a loud enough message to those who don’t understand what it means to be a member of society.

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    • longgone May 17, 2013 at 9:02 am

      5 years ago or so, there was in fact a lot of tension around the area you mentioned F.L.. I have not heard much grumblings of late. Do you know if there has been incidents of not recently?

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      • A.K. May 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

        Just anecdotal personal evidence, but in the 3 years I’ve been riding up there (probably 5x a summer or so), the worst I’ve had is one or two cars pass me a little close. I’ve never been threatened or harassed.

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      • Fred Lifton May 17, 2013 at 3:21 pm

        Earlier this year on a ride I got buzzed a couple of times, and had one brainiac honk angrily and rev his engine and buzz me because I dared to take the lane going into a blind corner at 28 mph (in a 35 zone). So not the worse, and maybe I’m a little sensitive after so many incidents in the past. Other riding friends of mine share my view that it can get kinda douchey out there. But in fairness, I have not heard of any blatant verbal threats or tacks or anything that extreme in a while. So maybe it has cooled down some?

        Perhaps Charlie Hales could ride decoy up and down the highway a few times in radio contact with a few motorcycle units hidden in the trees?

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  • Spiffy May 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    More of these coming soon.
    (Photo: ODOT)

    please no more of these signs telling motorists that bicycles should get out of their way…

    either remove the bicycle sign or change the sign so it has both a bicycle and a car on it… actually, since you can walk on the highway shoulder they should also put a pedestrian on the sign with the bike and the car…

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    • Steve B May 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm

      Which signs say that?

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    • longgone May 16, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Lets NOT do what Spiffy says, please.
      It is a good thing Spiffy does not drive , because Spiffy does not seem to understand road signs.
      Spiffy is seeing things out there.

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      • fredlf May 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm

        Actually, I think Spiffy is onto something. I think many drivers interpret that sign to mean “Bikes must share road with cars.” These people do not understand that “sharing” doesn’t just mean other people give them stuff.

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        • longgone May 17, 2013 at 8:59 am

          A sign that is ignored by a malicious person with an agenda,need not be removed because certain cyclists believe it is a call to harm them.
          On the contrary they need to stay in place ( and proliferate) to check honest peoples actions, and remind them of vulnerable road users(of all types) in places they may not expect.
          Malicious motorists don’t give two hoots about signs, and will continue to act like asses nonetheless.

          Please people, quit the self deprecating fear based cycling martyrdom, it is not empowerment!

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          • longgone May 17, 2013 at 9:06 am

            If signage needs a rework of information, that is one thing, but to make assumptions on peoples thoughts,or choice to ignore known factual laws concerning road use, and remove them is quite another.

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  • XYZ May 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I rode from Interstate Blvd. to Hood River last summer. Very nice ride until the historic highway ended. Then it was pretty brutal — especially around Shellrock Mountain. I probably would not do the ride again because of that stretch — a long corner with a 2-foot shoulder and trucks passing you at 70 mph. But once that stretch is improved, it will be great.

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  • matt f May 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    This is great. I too hope that it will extend all the way to Hood River someday.

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  • rwl1776 May 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    As for this wording, the maybe SECOND paragraph should read:
    “ODOT is also working with local communities and organizations to increase understanding of proper road-sharing behavior:
    * Motorists should pass cyclists with care when it is safe to do so, and be patient in areas where topography, debris, or the narrow roadway makes it safer for cyclists to ride in the center of the lane.
    * Cyclists should ride to the right and single-file, especially in areas where topography and the narrow roadway makes it the safest way to ride, and when traffic approaches, allow motorists to pass when the road is wide enough to safely do so.”

    Why would anyone ever ride two bikes wide on this narrow road? Be safe at all times. If you ride two wide around or after any corner, a car approaching from behind may not see you in time, leaving them three options: drive off the road over a cliff, run head on into opposing traffic or run over a cyclist in the middle of the lane.

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  • daisy May 16, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Last weekend I was out on the Columbia River Highway and saw a bunch of the new signs. The ones I saw were bright orange and said “Bikes on Roadway.” I was thrilled to see them.

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  • Charles Ross May 16, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    I and a friend just completed a five day trip to Maryhill S.P. and back, going east on the Oregon side, camping at Viento S.P., Deschutes S.P., Maryhill S.P. and coming back on the Washington side camping one night at Beacon Rock. I would almost recommend coming back to the Oregon side at Bridge of the Gods. Highway 14 going west from there is not that great.
    The Shellrock curve is a challenge. One has to look for a gap in the traffic, pedal like hell and, here is the key, don’t look back!!
    All and all a great journey to be recommended.

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  • Ted Buehler May 16, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Good progress, I look forward to riding up there after the McCord creek section is open.

    2 questions for Jessica and Kristin —

    1) “Share the Road” — these aren’t as instructive as the “Bicycles Allowed Full Lane” signs. I’ve had drivers scold me by saying “shaaare the road” as they pass me if I’m taking the lane, such as on a sharrow-marked bicycle boulevard.

    Is there any reason you’re not using the “Bicycles allowed Full Lane” signs instead?

    2) Pedestrians on the Historic Highway — there’s a number of spots, in particular right around Multnomah Falls, where the historic highway is posted “Pedestrians Prohibited”.

    Seems that this is a waste of a very good potential use of the historic highway for walkers and hikers. While I appreciate that its being made more bike-friendly, how about doing something like lowering the speed limit to 15 mph in these sections and taking out the yellow centerline?

    Ted Buehler

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  • GlowBoy May 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I’m VERY much looking forward to the new trail section at Moffet Creek (as well as the reopening of the HCRH). That nasty freeway section has been the main thing keeping me from riding in the Gorge.

    Come September it will be possible to ride all the way to Wyeth (not just Cascade Locks!) without getting on the freeway, and I might just have to do that this fall.

    Glad to hear Shellrock is next. No way would I ever ride on that section of freeway. I remember looking at some document a few months back that described all the segments required to complete the trail to Hood River, and I think the total project cost was in the tens of millions. I have no idea how we’ve managed to secure all the funding for it, but I’m thrilled anyway.

    A reasonably safe, pleasant route through the Gorge that appeals to cyclists beyond the Fast & Furious types would do wonders for tourism.

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