ODOT scores federal funds for repairs to Highway 35

A new chapter is being added to Highway 35's long and troubled history -- and both state and federal officials hope it has a happy ending.

That message was recently delivered by two federal legislators who worked together to score $601,000 in emergency relief monies from the Federal Highway Administration.

"These funds are crucial to economic development and increased traffic safety in Oregon," said U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, R-Ore. "Both commercial and passenger vehicles will benefit greatly from this much needed federal support."

Smith worked with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to secure the new capital that will be used by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to find a long-term fix for the corridor which links U.S. 26 with the Columbia River Gorge. These dollars are in addition to $1.5 million given to ODOT last year to cover the costs of repairing massive washouts brought by severe flooding in the fall of 2000.

"Oregon needs safe, well-maintained roads to get our people from place to place and our goods to and from market," said Wyden. "It's good to see the federal government pitching in its fair share for repairs that are already underway."

Charlie Sciscione, ODOT district manager, said the new funding will be used both to strengthen the existing roadway and finance a formal study of alternative routes across the historical flood plain.

He said the first ODOT priority will be to install a $300,000-$500,000 overflow culvert where Mineral Creek intercepts Highway 35 just south of the White River. Sciscione said the need for the extra water passage became clear when glacier material blocked the underspan of the White River bridge in September of 2000 and caused the water to jump its channel. The river then forked in two directions and the southern runoff severely damaged a nearby Boy Scout Camp. Sciscione said the problems in that vicinity could have been much worse if the existing Mineral Creek culvert, which was running at full capacity, had become blocked by a tree or if the entire body of water had headed that way.

He estimates that about $875,000 of damage could have been added to Highway 35 repair costs since another one mile of roadway would have been undermined.

However, Sciscione said numerous rockfalls and washouts during the past 20 years have made both federal and state officials highly aware that having a roadway sitting in the middle of a flood plain leads to continued problems. To help with future repairs, ODOT will spend $280,000 of the new funds to perform an Environmental Impact Study which will determine if rock can be taken from a quarry near Trillium Lake, providing repair material at a greatly reduced cost.

In addition, Sciscione said about $200,000 will be used for an engineering study to look at the feasibility of re-routing Highway 35 over existing forest roads, or even replacing the existing bridge over White River with a tunnel for vehicle crossing.

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