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New rockslides delay reopening of Historic Columbia River Highway

Posted by on August 3rd, 2018 at 9:06 am

Still from USFS video of rockslide above Historic Columbia River Highway in the Gorge.
(Watch video below)

Bummer news from the Oregon Department of Transportation: New rockslides have set back their plans to reopen six miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway that have been closed since last fall due to the Eagle Creek Fire.

The slides happened on the section of highway between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth State Park. As we reported last month, ODOT hoped to reopen that section of road with an experimental new lane configuration in September.

In a statement yesterday, ODOT Region 1 Manager Rian Windsheimer said, “This setback is a real disappointment to us. Our crews have been working hard to get these areas cleared. But there’s plenty to do before we can safely reopen the road.”

Video (below) of one of the slides near Horsetail Falls, taken by the US Forest Service, shows rocks rolling down a steep hill directly onto the highway.

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The new lane configuration ODOT expected to reopen the highway with this fall would have allowed drivers to only use the eastbound lane while the westbound lane would be for walking and biking only. Many of you expressed excitement for that plan; but at least one commenter on our story (with the username “local resident”) wasn’t happy about it at all:

“You do all realize that there are people who live out here, though, correct? Many people from Portland like to think of (and treat) the Gorge like it’s their playground, but this is our home, and this is causing a lot of frustration and inconvenience to those who actually reside here. Things like this are part of what creates animosity towards bicyclists; the idea that miles of a working road should be shut down just for people to have a nice bike ride (when there are many other bike-only paths in the area). We are happy to share our lovely space (we think it’s awesome—that’s why we live here!), but this is almost like a slap in the face to those who live here.”

ODOT hasn’t announced a new timeline for the reopening. At least now they have more time to make the case for the carfree lane and (hopefully) mollify those who don’t approve of the idea.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

17 Comments
  • bikeninja August 3, 2018 at 9:50 am

    The angry local resident assumes that bikes are only for recreation and that when they drive their SUV back and forth to Costco for cheeze doodles that is somehow “working”. It might be time for these characters to discover the benefits of cycling for transportation before they find out that happy motoring was a short term phenomenon and they need to make other plans.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 10:37 am

      You forgot to call them a NIMBY. That usually helps.

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    • Sure...but... August 3, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      I can understand resident’s frustration to have to travel significantly out of direction, but I know that ODOT staff were careful to plan the one-way section begin east of the last residence in the corridor so that no one got stuck having to drive way out of the way.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 1:28 pm

        Obviously this person does. Without context, we can’t know why, or how many others are similarly affected.

        Luckily, this is not our problem to solve.

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        • Pete August 7, 2018 at 10:07 am

          If they are truly “local” then they know how much of a bitch I-84 is in the winter, and how many speeding truckers wipe out and close it. I’ll take a planned ODOT detour any day…

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    • Middle of The Road Guy August 6, 2018 at 9:42 am

      You actually nailed the psychology there pretty well. And since it is for “recreation”, the cyclist is somehow gaming the system for their pleasure…unlike the dutiful driver who has OBVIOUSLY paid their “fair share” (even though they couldn’t tell you what that amount is).

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  • John Lascurettes August 3, 2018 at 9:56 am

    To “Local Resident”:
    Between the fire and now, you haven’t even had much of any access to the highway. This lane configuration was meant to be a trial thing, right? How about giving the lane configuration a try during the trial and see just how bad it is? You might just find that it greatly reduces that “playground” mentality of us city folk (most of whom visit the area in motor vehicles that clog up “your” highway). Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. But let’s not just keep doing the same thing and expect the congestion problems to go away.

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  • I wear many hats August 3, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Why does the NIMBY just hate on bicyclists? Especially since the congestion on the Historic Highway is almost entirely due to the over abundance of motor vehicles?

    Recommended Thumb up 24

  • Glenn F August 3, 2018 at 11:25 am

    a few small rocks..still looks rideable to me…

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  • Clicky Freewheel August 3, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Take the money from the border wall and use it to build retaining walls instead.

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  • Dan August 3, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Honest question: there are houses on the affected section of the Historic Highway? If not, how is this an inconvenience to residents of the area? And as Many Hats pointed out, that road is impassible on weekends due to car traffic anyway.

    We would all like to claim as private property infrastructure that’s built with private dollars: the parking in front of our houses, public roads, etc., but that infrastructure is built with public money, and sometimes the needs of the majority will take priority. To echo your comment, “there are many other roads that cars can use in the area.”

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      I’m not sure if “the needs of the majority” includes recreational cycling through the gorge on weekends. Are you sure that’s the metric you want to use?

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      • dan August 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm

        And emergency vehicle access, don’t forget about that.

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        • John Lascurettes August 3, 2018 at 3:08 pm

          The one-lane plan was configured specifically to address emergency vehicle access. In fact, it improves it because it’s easier for people on foot and bikes to more fully clear that lane than it is if both lanes were gridlocked with their typical summer weekend traffic.

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    • Johnny Bye Carter September 30, 2018 at 12:39 pm

      Just looked on Google street view and couldn’t find a single private driveway. So yes, the commenter is lying, they don’t live there.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty September 30, 2018 at 5:54 pm

        How do you figure that?

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  • Aaron August 7, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    I’m pretty sure I took that video. I’m 100% sure that I was on the trail crew that did. That slide took out our trail, so we had to hike out via the highly-unstable Oneota Gorge trail and then walk the road back to horsetail falls.

    ODOT got notified by the railroad company, since rocks were bouncing all the way across the road, through the fence, and onto the tracks. The fences have sensors to detect this sort of thing, apparently. In total it was about 10 dump truck loads full.

    That was quite a day.

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