OTC resolves to make Historic Trail completion a ‘priority’

The completion of the Historic Columbia River State Highway Trail is an endeavor that has enjoyed wide public support, but finding enough money to finish the ambitious project hasn’t been as easy to come by.

However, a recent resolution unanimously passed by members of the Oregon Transportation Commission names the project’s completion “a priority” for the Oregon Department of Transportation as well as “a project of statewide and national significance” — statements ODOT officials hope will catch the attention of federal grant programs that might help fund construction for the trail’s remaining sections.

The trail is the second life for the Historic Columbia River Highway, which was completed in 1922 and ran from Troutdale to The Dalles before falling out of favor with motorists and into disrepair after Interstate 84 was completed in the 1960s. ODOT has been refurbishing and reconstructing the highway — part of which is a trail for non-motor vehicle use — since the late 1980s and is in the process of seeking funding to construct the final 10 miles of trail from Wyeth to Hood River. According to Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway, approximately $55 million is still needed for the trail work, which is likely still several years away from completion.

The OTC resolution notes both the federal and state governments have directed ODOT to complete this project and orders ODOT to “develop federal funding requests and identify any required funding matching funds to take advantage of any grant opportunities.” It also mentions that the trail has been backed by Gorge communities, which stand to reap additional benefits from a bike-tourism industry that already brings in an estimated $46 million annually to the region.

Though the resolution may be somewhat short on actionable items, ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton says having the unanimous endorsement of the state’s transportation agency will provide a “big boost” and cause the federal government to take notice of the project.

“It will be part of the consideration for federal and state funding,” he explained. “It’s going to mean a lot when applying for federal grants.”

Planning for the final leg of the trail is already complete and ODOT intends to begin geotechnical work needed to analyze the subsurface conditions of the highway by this spring. Construction of a 1.25-mile segment of trail from Starvation Creek to Lindsey Creek is expected to begin spring 2015 after the geotechnical work is completed, with an anticipated public opening in spring 2016.

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