This story was written by Ted Timmons.
A film premiere in northwest Portland last night highlighted one of the most exciting transportation projects the State of Oregon has ever undertaken — the re-establishment of the 100-year old Historic Columbia River Highway as a biking and walking-friendly byway that hugs the Gorge far away from the dangers, noise, and exhaust fumes of I-84.
This project started in 1996, but gained a significant boost in 2007 with the birth of the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway. The 2013 Policymakers’ Ride showed us just how many people are interested in this project.
Now, thanks to the excellent film making talents of Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of Path Less Pedaled, the interest and enthusiasm are sure to spread even wider.
Last night Travel Oregon and the Friends group hosted an event at Pacific Northwest College of Art to premiere six new short films produced by Path Less Pedaled. The films were created with the aim to educate more people about the project and stoke enthusiasm that will, hopefully, hasten the completion of the project.
Watch the five other films and you’ll see why so many people are excited about this project:
At the event we learned that a mere ten miles remain before the Historic Highway will reach the full glory it had when it first opened in 1916. Five miles of those have been funded and construction is scheduled to begin this fall. The construction of a period-appropriate viaduct around Shellrock Mountain (PDF) called the Summit Creek Viaduct will begin in late 2016 and be completed in 2018, with an estimated cost of $2.4 million.
The final five miles will be the most difficult and most expensive – a progress report estimated $32 million for this section. Notably, that includes a tunnel through Mitchell Point. Ironically, the original Columbia River Highway included the Mitchell Point Tunnel, which was a tunnel with five “windows” blasted through the rock. Clearly, a replacement tunnel in 2015 will be substantially more expensive than the original in 1915. Even worse, the tunnel was removed to build I-84, leaving behind unstable rock which makes the construction even more difficult. There was audible excitement when it was announced that the replacement tunnel will also have daylighted sections.
Several people spoke about the project at the event last night. To me, the most inspiring was Kathy Fitzpatrick, the city manager of Mosier, Oregon. Mosier is located east of Hood River, which means cycling tourists won’t start arriving until after the entire 10 miles of missing trail are completed. Kathy spoke about how Mosier was in a period of decline after losing steamships (Bonneville Dam), freight and passenger train service, and the Historic Highway. The census illustrates this: Mosier had a population of 340 in 1980 and 244 in 1990. Fitzpatrick talked about Mosier’s pub, coffee shop, and Rack and Cloth, a restaurant and cider house. I can’t wait to visit those places when the trail is completed.
Fitzpatrick also mentioned the concept of a “bike hub” in Mosier and other cities in the Gorge. It’s a brilliant idea — kiosks where cyclists can access tools, see a map of local amenities, relax, and perhaps recharge a cell phone. Metro gave a grant of $50,000 for the Gorge Hubs earlier this year.
On a somber note, the importance of completing the Historic Highway was underscored last year when Ellen Dittebrandt was killed in a collision while she cycled on the shoulder of I-84. When the Historic Highway is completed, people won’t be forced into that dangerous situation.