A biking and walking path on the Bridge of the Gods took a big step forward last month.
In March, the Port of Cascade Locks and the Pacific Coast Trail Association (in cooperation with the United States Forest Service, Washington Department of Transportation, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and City of Stevenson, WA) turned in a proposal (PDF) to the Federal Highway Administration requesting $934,000 for a planning study that would lead to the construction of the project.
The bridge is a major part of tourism in the area and it services as a key link in the transportation network. It’s the access point for the popular Pacific Crest Trail, West End Transit bus service, two Scenic Byways, and other significant trails. Unfortunately, the bridge is narrow at just 22 feet-wide, has no shoulders or sidewalks, and is quite unnerving to use — even in a car!
Port of Cascade Locks Manager of Bridge Operations Ryan Vollans told us today via email that, “The Port feels strongly that this project greatly enhances pedestrian and bicycle safety at the Bridge and this improvement has been necessary for some time.”
Here’s an excerpt from the proposal:
The bridge is unsuitable for safe pedestrian traffic with a narrow 22-foot roadway lacking even minimal shoulders. It is a perilous situation for pedestrians to safely access then cross this narrow bridge, 1/3 mile long, with nothing to separate them from traffic, and the water visible under their feet 140 feet below the steel grate. Safety risks increase when tractor-trailers must swerve to go around pedestrians into oncoming traffic, and other motorists are sometimes paying more attention to the scenic views than to the road.
Despite that, the number of people who walk across the bride has risen significantly in the past four years nearly doubling between 2014 and 2017 (from 4,700 to 7,800 respectively).
In addition to a cantilevered path, the project — estimated to cost between $15 and $25 million — would include a seismic retrofit, new paths connecting nearby trails to the bridge, and safety upgrades to cross adjacent highways (see image below).
A story in today’s Oregonian reported that the project has major backing by from Oregon and Washington’s congressional delegation. A 2017 bill that would have directed the Oregon Department of Transportation to begin the project, didn’t make it out of committee.
The Port and its partners seek funding through the Federal Lands Access Program. If chosen, it would allow the Port to select a final bridge design, study environmental impacts, refine cost estimates, and get the project ready for future funding. The proposal is being evaluated now and Vollans says they expect a final decision to be made in August or September of this year.
Vollans says if the current schedule holds, the new path and other upgrades would be completed by 2024.
With a big push for carfree travel in the Columbia River Gorge, this project can’t happen soon enough. Stay tuned for opportunites to weigh in with your comments.
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