Patrick Mulvihill photo
Arthur Babitz, chair of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail advisory committee, discusses the Gorton Creek Bridge under construction as part of the state trail project. A new three-mile section of trail is forming up west of Hood River.
High above Interstate 84 west of Hood River, constructions crews were hard at work Friday assembling pieces of an over-land bridge that will reconnect abandoned stretches of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
The 40-foot-tall Summit Creek Viaduct will highlight a new section of the state trail, under construction from spring 2017 to fall 2019.
The three-mile trail segment will run from Wyeth to Lindsey Creek — part of the larger effort to restore the old U.S. Highway 30 as a paved bike and pedestrian trail from Troutdale to The Dalles. About five miles await reconnection.
Drivers will see delays in the construction area, starting Friday, Feb. 16. Oregon Department of Transportation will close the eastbound lane near milepost 51 for the next three months. Transportation officials say the closure is needed to finish the trail project.
Work is on schedule for the $21 million project at Wyeth, according to ODOT and its partner agencies. The new trail segment will tie into the recently finished waterfall stretch at Starvation Creek.
Sandra Hikari with ODOT said the three-mile segment has been “a very big challenge” from design to construction due to steep terrain and its proximity to I-84.
Summit Creek Viaduct, one of the defining features of the upcoming Wyeth trail segment, will connect abandoned highway sections. Its look draws upon designs from the original highway. Crews expect they’ll pour concrete for the structure this week.
“It’s going to be a major attraction,” Hikari said. “That said, we are designing it so it blends in more with the natural landscape.”
Other project elements include:
• Various improvements to the Wyeth trailhead, such as a bike fix-it station, a water refill station, a restroom, and a natural habitat for pollinators such as butterflies, birds and bees.
• The “mossy road” section of highway will be restored as a relatively quiet stretch, uphill from the river-level traffic roar. A heavy carpet of moss grew over the trail during the 50-plus years after construction on what became I-84 cut off both its sides. The foliage is gone now, removed to make way for a paved trail.
• Lindsey Creek Bench Cut: a series of rock blasts ODOT conducted last fall created space for the state trail. The rock cuts and a new stone wall will help the path blend in with the landscape.
• Shellrock Mountain Crossing: a tricky engineering feat will hold back the rocky cliff and squeeze in a trail behind the existing wall that protects I-84.
• A pedestrian/cyclist bridge at Gorton Creek, running parallel to the existing route for cars.
Western Federal Lands Highway Division is the project’s contract administrator, with Stellar J. Corporation, based in Woodland, Wash., serving as contractor. ODOT owns and operates the historic highway, and the agency teams up with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to manage the state trail.
Arthur Babitz, trail advisory committee chair and former Hood River mayor, discussed the past of the historic highway and state trail endeavor during a Friday media tour.
The original route, built from 1913-1922, was the first major highway in the Pacific Northwest. It featured elaborate engineering along much of its 73 miles. The builders, Babitz said, “developed an ethos where instead of just having a strip of asphalt from point ‘a’ to ‘b,’ the highway was far more about the experience of traveling. It (wasn’t) about getting from one place to another — it was the experience of being there.”
However, boosts in traffic and the advent of modern vehicles led to the highway’s retirement. It was phased out as portions of I-84 took shape at river level in the mid-20th century.
In the 1980s, local efforts shifted to bringing back the former highway in a new role.
“The project that’s underway since 1986 has been to reconnect the pieces so that we have an alternative for bicycles and for other non-motorized transportation to get from Troutdale all the way to The Dalles without getting on Interstate 84,” Babitz said. Bikes offer the ideal original highway experience, Babitz explained, since modern cycles can reach nearly the same speed as a Model T automobile.
After the Wyeth trail reopens at the tail of 2019, ODOT hopes to create a trail at Mitchell Point. Advisory committee members and transportation officials are considering designs for a crossing at the rocky cape west of Hood River.