A set of stairs on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail that has been the focus of advocates’ ire for many years, has taken a solid step forward.
Built in 1996, before the Oregon Department of Transportation integrated ADA design requirements into trail projects, the Eagle Creek staircase is the bane of bike riders, wheelchair users, and anyone who can’t walk or carry their gear down the six flights of stairs near the Bonneville Dam.
This barrier has come into sharper focus in recent years as the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail inches toward completion. Back in June we shared how a trail advocate hosted a prominent disability rights activist at the location as a way to bring attention to the issue.
Now the issue has gained the attention of U.S Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Merkley is Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and was able to include $35 million for 22 Oregon projects and programs in the FY24 Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The funding includes $1.33 million for three projects that are on the Oregon Signature Trails list: restorations and improvements in the Wenaha sections of the Blue Mountains Trail; new connectors in the Oakridge-Westfir Mountain Bike System, and an analysis for replacing the Eagle Creek Staircase.
As we reported in January 2021, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee has made replacement of the staircase a top priority. Conceptual drawings shared by that committee show a sweeping ramp along the steep hillside. The estimated cost of the project has skyrocketed since first estimates were made in 2009. The project funded in Merkley’s bill would allow ODOT to do more design and scoping work and arrive at an accurate estimate to make the project more “shovel ready.”
Here’s more from a one-pager on the project created by ODOT:
“Replacing the Eagle Creek Stairs with an accessible facility would be a benefit to all State Trail users. This funding request will bring all stakeholders together to review replacement alternatives and identify the most viable option to removing this ADA barrier while balancing the requirements to protect the scenic, natural, recreational, and cultural resources within the Gorge. This funding would help provide a conceptual design that could then be used to apply for grant funding for full engineering and construction.”
In a statement, Oregon Trails Coalition Director Steph Noll expressed gratitude for Senator Merkley and his colleague, Senator Ron Wyden. “This will address major gaps in Oregon’s Signature Trail network and increase access to the outdoors in communities across Oregon,” Noll said.
The Interior bill passed through committee on July 27th and is expected to go to the full Senate later this year.