3.3 mile section of Historic Columbia River Highway path set to open next month

The impressive new path can be seen on the left rising above I-84 east of Wyeth in this Google image from October 2018.

We are less than three weeks away from the opening of a new segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail: A 3.3 mile carfree path that offers stunning views of the Gorge. In fact, path users will have the opportunity to take in vistas that have been nearly impossible to see outside an automobile for over a century.

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New rockslides delay reopening of Historic Columbia River Highway

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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ODOT will create carfree lane on Historic Columbia River Highway when it reopens this fall

Cross-section of ODOT’s “phased reopening” plan for the Historic Columbia River Highway.

“This is a great opportunity to try it and see how it operates.”
— Terra Lingley, ODOT Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Coordinator

They say when a fire strikes a forest it comes back even healthier than before. The same might be true for the Historic Columbia River Highway.

When a six-mile section of the scenic road reopens this fall following a one-year closure due to the Eagle Creek Fire, the Oregon Department of Transportation says it’ll have one fewer lane for automobile users. Referred to as the “phased reopening” plan, ODOT will limit automobile use to one lane in the eastbound direction for a five mile section between the Benson State Recreation Area/Hartman Pond (Exit 30) and Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). The westbound lane will be set aside for walking, rolling, and emergency vehicles (see map graphic below).

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State warns about cycling closures and work zone conditions through Columbia Gorge – UPDATED

(Map: Oregon State Parks)

UPDATE: This post has been edited to reflect the fact that the State of Oregon has not technically “closed” the gorge to bicycling. People on bikes are still allowed to use I-84 (legally, from NE 238th east); but should be advised of work zone conditions. We regret any confusion the initial story caused.

The combination of fire clean-up and construction of new paths (ironically) adjacent I-84 has led to a decision to prohibit bicycling warnings for bicycle users through a key segment of the Columbia River Gorge this summer.

An Oregon State Parks employee emailed us about the news last night and urged us to spread the word so that no one gets stuck. “What I have found is there is no way to ride through the Gorge this year — not even for those willing to ride on the shoulder I-84.”

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Plan for new path on Bridge of the Gods moves forward in search of funding

This looks even more amazing if you’ve ever been across the bridge in its current form.
(Graphics: Port of Cascade Locks)
Existing conditions. Yikes!

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.

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A 30 year-old vision for a carfree Historic Columbia River Highway

Imagine a carfree Historic Columbia River Highway… like Dave Wechner did almost 30 years ago.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

There’s been a steady trickle of news here on BikePortland in recent years from agencies and advocates who see a future for carfree traveling in the Columbia River Gorge. But it turns out the idea isn’t as futuristic as you might think.

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New website is latest piece in the carfree Columbia Gorge puzzle

Map via ColumbiaGorgeCarfree.com.

As the Portland region grows, so too has the popularity of the Columbia River Gorge. That’s a good thing; but not if too many people visit it by car.

Thankfully, Oregon’s tourism and transportation agencies understand this. Two summers ago, faced with congestion and overflowing parking lots, the Department of Transportation launched the Columbia Gorge Express bus service to encourage people to experience the Gorge without a car. That’s been such a huge success they’ve upgraded service and features each year.

Now comes another piece of the puzzle: ColumbiaGorgeCarfree.com, a website funded in part by a grant from Travel Oregon.

The site (still partly under construction) features carfree itineraries for popular Gorge destinations. As of now, there’s a turn-by-turn guide to hiking the popular Dog Mountain trail without a car. The itinerary comes with a detailed map and is based on biking and walking the four miles from Cascade Locks to the West End Transit (WET) shuttle bus stop on the Washington side of the river. If you can wait until May 25th, the Columbia Gorge Express will carry you and your bike from the Gateway Transit Center in east Portland to Cascade Locks.

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There’s also a very helpful page that lists all the buses and transit options that serve the Gorge.

This new website is the work of Heidi Beirle and a, “geeky team of transportation professionals.” Beirle is a carfree tourism consultant who also works with the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce.

If you’re keen on going to the Gorge carfree this season, keep this website handy. And if you want to make bus service to the Gorge even better, please take the latest Columbia Gorge Express survey.

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

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More bike capacity among possible upgrades for ODOT’s Gorge Express bus service

Riders board the Columbia Gorge Express.
(Photos: ODOT)

Despite an early end to the season due to the Eagle Creek Fire, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Columbia Gorge Express bus service was a hit once again this past summer season.

Jake Warr from ODOT’s Rail & Public Transit Division manages the program. He got in touch with us to share an update on this year’s usage stats and a photo of the newly upgraded buses.

“The second season of ODOT’s Columbia Gorge Express pilot service further confirmed that public transit to the Gorge is in high demand,” Warr said. “In fact, before the Eagle Creek Fire forced an early end to the season, the service was on pace to beat last year’s ridership totals. A few tweaks from the 2016 season helped accommodate and support this ridership growth, including the use of larger buses and the option to pay fares with cash.”

Here are the stats based on ticket sales and rider survey:

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