Columbia River Hwy State Trail gets major endorsement

Policymakers Ride - Gorge Edition-58
A new section of the path just opened last fall.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The momentum to complete the remaining 10 miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail — a route that will ultimately provide a pleasant bicycling connection between Troutdale and Hood River without ever forcing riders onto Interstate 84 — got a major boost on Friday. In a unanimous vote, the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) approved a resolution (PDF) that puts the project atop the Department of Transportation’s priority list.

The resolution calls for ODOT to fund and construct the final segments and called it, “a project of statewide and national significance.”
This is just the second time in ODOT history that a non-auto/highway project has been given such a high level of official endorsement (the other one was the Oregon Coast Bike Route in the early 1980s). The resolution has major implications and will help ODOT and project proponents secure the final $32 million needed to finish it.

“I think local communities are seeing the value of cycling in the Gorge. There’s a huge upswell of support.”
— Kristen Stallman, ODOT

Kristen Stallman, ODOT’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area coordinator, says this resolution gives the project a crucial “step up” when it comes to making requests for state and federal funding. “To have the state’s highest body saying this is an important project… That’s a strong message as we apply for grants. It really sets this project apart and hopefully opens the door for funding.”

Here’s an excerpt from the resolution:

3. The State of Oregon, local governments, and private citizens have collaborated to leverage significant funding for improvements such as the recently completed John B. Yeon to Moffett Creek Trail Project. For the first time in 77 years, Oregonians now are able to ride their bicycles from Cascade Locks to Troutdale without having to go on the shoulder Interstate 84.

4. Completion of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is a priority for the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and Travel Oregon.

5. The Oregon Transportation Commission strongly supports federal funding to complete the project and will communicate this in writing to the Oregon Congressional Delegation and U.S. Department of Transportation.

6. The Oregon Transportation Commission directs the Oregon Department of Transportation to develop federal funding requests and identify any required matching funds to take advantage of any grant opportunities.

Stallman credits this momentous announcement to the huge upswell of support from local communities in the Gorge who see the economic benefits the completed trail will bring to their cities. “I think they are seeing the value of cycling in the Gorge,” she says. Another major factor, according to Stallman, is the leadership of outgoing OTC Chair Pat Egan. Egan was one of many leaders who attended the “Policymakers Ride” on the State Trail back in August.

Friday’s meeting was Egan’s last as OTC Chair, so this project is now an historic part of his legacy.

As for what work remains to complete the State Trail, Stallman says they’re focused on a 10-mile stretch between Wyeth (Exit 51 on I-84) and Hood River. With funding already in place for the permits, environmental work, and engineering of all 10 miles and two projects that will bite off five of those miles, ODOT is getting very close to the end. A one-mile extension of the trail between Viento State Park and Starvation Creek will be constructed in spring 2015. Then in spring of 2016 another project (not funded yet, but in line for a state grant) would build a segment of the trail from Wyeth west east to Lindsey Creek. That segment, Stallman points out, would allow people to avoid the dreaded shoulder of I-84 around Shellrock Mountain.

This is great news for what will someday soon be one of the premiere bicycle routes in America. Stay tuned!

– Read more about the Historic Columbia River Highway project in our archives and on ODOT’s website.

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