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ODOT wins $28 million federal grant for Historic Highway project

Posted by on November 23rd, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Not many gaps left.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has inched ever closer to its goal of reconnecting a 75-mile paved path and low-volume road between Troutdale and The Dalles. Their Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail project just won a $28 million grant from the US Department of Transportation for the Mitchell Point Crossing.

The grant, which comes from the Federal Highway Administration’s Federal Lands Access Program, will allow ODOT to complete engineering designs and trail connections on one of the last remaining (and most technically and financially demanding) segments of the project — a safe crossing around Mitchell Point that might include a new tunnel. Before Interstate 84 existed the old highway used to go through the Mitchell Point Tunnel. That tunnel and large segments of the road that led into them were closed in 1953 as cars and trucks increased in size and rockfalls became too hazardous.

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With a three-mile segment of the Historic Highway being constructed this winter and a 1.2 mile section that just opened last month, the funding of the Mitchell Point Crossing segment brings ODOT tantalizingly close to finishing the project.

“With the engineering funding secured, we are oh-so close to completing our vision of creating a world class experience between Troutdale and The Dalles,” Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Coordinator Kristen Stallman shared with us in a recent email. “It is an exciting time in the Gorge.”

Indeed it is. The final connection east into Hood River is the only section that remains unfunded and it’s very likely that 2017 will be the year that final piece of the puzzle gets set into place.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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  • Evan Manvel November 23, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Huge congrats to ODOT, and all the citizen advocates who’ve been working on this project for over a decade, including Cycle Oregon folks. Exciting times!

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  • rick November 23, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Bike and walking only, right ?

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    • Pete November 23, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      …and maybe a wheelchair or three.

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      • Ted Buehler November 25, 2016 at 4:04 pm

        Hopefully no stairway sections?

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        • Pete November 25, 2016 at 7:38 pm

          Most of the current and next stretch are pretty flat, along the highway.

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    • Cory Poole November 26, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      And skateboards! Don’t forget skateboards!

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  • ElPana November 23, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    this is great!!!, looking forward on doing that ride. Pedal, Pedal, Pedal!!

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  • Jason Brune November 23, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    So happy to hear this news.

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  • Pete November 23, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you Greg Walden for your continued influence and support on this. While I was excited to click on the link given this great news, it was with heavy heart seeing that picture of Ellen Dittebrandt’s lovely smile, which we miss seeing around the gorge. I think of you every time I walk into Celilo; you graced us with some of the loveliest art I’ve ever seen.

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  • Pete November 23, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    “…it’s very likely that 2017 will be the year that final piece of the puzzle gets set into place.”

    I hope I eat my words, but I’ll be amazed if they figure out the route past this ridge that easily:

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    • Stephen Keller November 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      The idea at one point in the planning process was to tunnel through in a manner similar to the original highway. I don’t know if that is still on the table.

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      • Pete November 23, 2016 at 8:11 pm

        Interesting. I’d guess it would have to be at a reasonable pitch, though, not to mention the costs. Also the Twin Tunnels are relatively short but frequently subject to icing, and this would be a longer tunnel.

        There is an underpass that could be used to get to the north side of the highway, but then you’ve got a bit of private and railroad property to traverse down to where you could pick up Jaymar or Industrial nearer to downtown.

        I’m waiting with baited breath!

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson November 23, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    $80,000 for 5.4 miles in the city or $28 million for a recreational crossing. I was one of the first people to ride the historic Columbia River trail and am so excited about it. The trail is one of the things I love most when I think about Oregon. When people complain about funding going towards bike share or central city things because it only helps a perceived limited population (even though the central city has the most affordable housing in the state) this is where they should be complaining. That being said I can’t wait to ride this and see the economic opportunities a completed trail will bring these communities.

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    • Let's Active November 23, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      Apples and oranges. FLAP grants can only be used for projects in official wilderness areas. This funding could never be used anywhere else so I’m not sure your point is on target regarding project choices. But I agree that it’s going to be a great connection to ride.

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      • rainbike November 26, 2016 at 6:24 am

        Mitchell Point is not a wilderness area. Maybe I misunderstand what you are saying.

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        • Evan Manvel November 26, 2016 at 9:31 am

          “The Federal Lands Access Program (Access Program) was established in 23 U.S.C. 204 to improve transportation facilities that provide access to, are adjacent to, or are located within Federal lands. The Access Program supplements State and local resources for public roads, transit systems, and other transportation facilities, with an emphasis on high-use recreation sites and economic generators.”

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          • rainbike November 27, 2016 at 2:42 pm

            Right, federal lands, but not wilderness areas.

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            • Let's Active November 28, 2016 at 10:20 am

              Yes, correct. I was not 100% accurate on the use of “wilderness areas”, though my point about the funding pots is what I think is important to remember.

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  • Mike November 24, 2016 at 7:43 am

    The non-motorized sections are great, but the motorized sections are a nightmare. It’s a wonder more people haven’t been run over.

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  • JeffS(egundo) November 25, 2016 at 10:13 am

    “Before Interstate 84 existed the old highway used to go through the Mitchell Point Tunnel. That tunnel and large segments of the road that led into them were closed in 1953 as cars and trucks increased in size and rockfalls became too hazardous.”

    Is this the tunnel that ODOT dynamited back in the day? If so, that’s a shame, as it might have been available for repurposing.

    This is a great trail, and providing a route that doesn’t funnel you on to I-84 for any portion of the trip to Hood River is a huge gain. This is a great resource now, and it hasn’t reached its full potential as a premiere recreational cycling route. This portion will give it a big boost in that direction.

    Which leads me to consider the “Waterfall Zone” . The map may not show it as a “gap”, but at certain times of the year – primarily the times when people want to bicycle – it is beyond unpleasant due to auto-overcrowding. Around Multnomah Falls it is absolutely ridiculous.

    So some type of traffic management is going to need to happen here; the ODOT shuttle is a start but isn’t going to solve a problem of this magnitude. Something on the order of what the National Park service has done at Zion and Grand Canyon – outright prohibition of private autos on portions of the park roads and providing shuttle buses – would seem to make sense for preserving the quality of the experience for people walking and bicycling.

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    • Mike November 25, 2016 at 10:48 am

      While closing the entire highway to motor vehicles is probably unrealistic because of the amount of private property along the way, they could make it one way heading east with a painted bikeway along the inside lane. It would be a start to closing the entire highway one day.

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      • wsbob November 26, 2016 at 12:13 am

        “…because of the amount of private property along the way, …” mike

        How much private property are we talking about, and how much motor vehicle use of the road to access it, is involved?

        What is the distribution of these private lands along the road, and could a one-way only direction of travel for motor vehicles, work for people that need to travel to and from those properties?

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      • John November 26, 2016 at 5:43 am

        Good idea. Most traffic on the highway goes from west to east and returns via freeway anyway.

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      • JeffS(egundo) November 26, 2016 at 10:20 am

        Possibly, but if you look at the portion from just east of Bridal Veil freeway exit, past Mult. Falls to Ainsworth State Park and the freeway access there (pretty much the entire Falls area) there doesn’t appear to be any private property, at least anything developed. It would be interesting to know. But regardless, doing any sort of closure to the HCRH , partial or complete, would be a huge lift for the various Scenic Area partners – ODOT, Parks, USFS…and require funding, not to mention a sense of urgency that is likely not there.

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    • Adam November 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm


      I’ve always thought a one-way road lane with contraflow cycletrack would be the way to go.

      Most people driving the Historic Highway do it in one direction only, then take the freeway back.

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  • Dale November 26, 2016 at 9:16 am

    This is great! My daughter lives in The Dalles and I use that route to bike out there. Watch, now she’ll move…

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  • Mike November 26, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Call me lame but I have never ride this route. I have no idea on how to get there or how far it is from SE if I want to ride from my house, any pointers.

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    • Dale November 26, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Get on Stark and go east to Old Hwy 30. Turn right toward Corbett and head to Vista House. Continue on that road to Multnomah Falls. Keep riding that road to Cascade Locks. Google “Biking Columbia Gorge Map” and you’ll see the entire route. Except for Hwy 84, it’s a great route. I love to ride it.

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      • John November 27, 2016 at 6:02 am

        An be sure you have your affairs in order. Your heirs will be forever grateful.

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    • Pete November 27, 2016 at 11:45 am

      One word of caution is to prepare for headwinds. It is a shady area, so stay as visible as possible, and it can ice in the shade on sunny days due to wind chill (depending on time of year, of course).

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    • Tim November 27, 2016 at 12:04 pm

      Mike, try this link Some of us have done this trip on old 3 speed bikes!

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    • JeffS(egundo) November 28, 2016 at 7:21 am

      If you want to save time/mileage, you can skip the east portland metro by hopping the MAX Blue line to Gresham.

      Here’s some detailed info:

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson November 27, 2016 at 10:49 am

    ODOT needs to start managing the motorized sections of the HCRH like the shared facility they are…20 mph, no passing, bikes in lane, sharrows, etc.

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  • Eric in Seattle November 27, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to ride from Gresham to Hood River. The ride was great, except for the horrible I-84 section. There is no way that this is suitable for even a moderately experienced and confident rider. I’ve been riding in traffic, sometimes in some pretty bike-unfriendly places, for 40 years or so and consider myself extremely confident. Still, there is no way I can recommend this route to anyone because of the I-84 segment. Eliminating that gauntlet will open the whole route up to tourism. One thing I noticed along the old highway were the interpretive signs pointing out how opening the gorge to automobiles created a tourism boom in the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps making the whole route to The Dalles available to folks on bikes will do the same in the 21st.

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  • Adam November 28, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Seeing the Historic Highway between Troutdale and Ainsworth described in this article as a “low-volume road” was the funniest thing I’ve read all month. And that includes the election.

    Please explain what planet you inhabit to ever consider describing the Historic Highway at Multnomah Falls, or Oneonta Gorge, or Bridal Veil, as “low-volume”.

    Absolutely hysterical.

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    • Alex Reedin November 29, 2016 at 5:28 am

      Yeah – I’d say “non-Interstate” is more accurate than “low-volume.” A section of the HCRH between Troutdale and Corbett has between 4,000 and 7,000 average cars per day (and that’s off of old data)

      I’d imagine that most readers of BikePortland have something like a neighborhood greenway in mind when they hear “low-volume” – and the City’s standard for that (which I personally find too loose but hey) is 3,000 cars per day or less. And having ridden both – 3,000 cars per day at relatively slow speeds is a heck of a lot nicer than 4,000-7,000 cars per day at 45+ mph on the HCRH going to Corbett. And then there’s the high traffic in the waterfall section on peak days…

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  • GlowBoy November 28, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    This is great news. I’ve been wanting this to happen for a long time.

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  • Jim Labbe
    Jim Labbe November 28, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks for reporting this good news. BTW. The first time I scanned the article the part the read “will allow ODOT to complete engineering designs and trail connections” did not make it 100% clear that this for design and construction. But on second read it is clear that it must.

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  • Stephen November 30, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    In today’s society, it seems like federal tax dollars should not be spent on “wants” or “additional recreation”. Would it not be more appropriate to spend it on “needs”? Veterans, homeless, victims, infrastructure repairs? Salem just dumped millions of gallons of sewage into the Willamette last weekend because they don’t have the money to repair the infrastructure. We should work on legislation to restructure federal and state spending to put “needs” first. Did you know Gov. Brown allocated more lottery dollars to help gambling addicts than to help Veterans? “Thank you for risking your life for us, but my lack of self control is more important than your needs.”

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    • Alex Reedin November 30, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Dude, addiction is most effectively treated as a psychological condition, not a lack of self control – and the reason Lottery dollars are allocated to gambling addiction is because the Lottery plays a huge role in enabling the problem in Oregon. I agree with most of your comment though – our priorities are all out of whack.

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