Merkley, Wyden Announce Over $30 Million to Improve Access to Federal Lands in the Gorge

Washington, DC – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today that the Federal Lands Access Program awarded the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) over $30 million to improve access to federal lands in the Gorge. This funding included $29 million to complete a new portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail and connect it at Mitchell Point Crossing, $2.6 million for the Columbia Gorge Express to improve access to Multnomah Falls, and $300,000 for the Historic Columbia River Highway Congestion Mitigation Plan.

“It’s no secret that one of Oregon’s greatest assets is our unique natural beauty and emphasis on quality of life,” said Merkley. “This funding helps ensure that more and more Oregonians and visitors can continue to enjoy our state’s natural beauty. I’m thrilled that we are one step closer towards interconnectedness in our beautiful Gorge region and will keep working to improve our recreational infrastructure to boost our job-creating recreation industry and quality of life.”

“A lot of great ideas began in Oregon and the Historic Columbia River Highway, America’s first scenic highway, is one of them,” Wyden said. “The Historic Columbia River Highway connects visitors and locals alike to some of the world’s most beautiful sights – found right here in the Gorge. These resources will help preserve this Oregon treasure, which supports outdoor recreation opportunities, local jobs and rural economies along the way.”

One hundred years after the Columbia River Highway was dedicated in 1916, the Federal Lands Access Program granted $29 million to continue reconnecting the abandoned or disconnected sections of the Historic Columbia River Highway for bicyclists and pedestrians to enjoy. Thanks to these grants, ODOT will design and build a safe crossing through the formidable cliffs at Mitchell Point, just west of the City of Hood River. The funding also helps complete the design, engineering and construction of the remainder of the trail between Viento State Park and the City of Hood River. In this work, ODOT will partner with agencies such as Oregon Parks and Recreation, the U.S. Forest Service, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and the Western Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration. By working towards a complete reconnection of the 73-mile long Historic Columbia River Highway, this project brings the area one step closer to actualizing the vision outlined in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

Today’s grants also include significant funding to expand the Columbia Gorge Express—the new and already highly successful transit service to Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s most visited natural site. As the Historic Highway celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2016, the area saw increased tourism and increased traffic congestion. While the Historic Highway is a quick 30-minute drive from downtown Portland, the increased traffic congestion has compromised safety and degraded the natural and cultural resources, including spectacular scenery and waterfall views, that make the area unique.

Following growing concerns about congestion, ODOT initiated a transit project called the Columbia Gorge express to improve access to Multnomah Falls just in time for the summer crowds. During summer 2016, the Columbia Gorge Express surpassed expectations by providing 30,000 trips to and from Multnomah Falls—highlighting the significant demand for transit service in the area. Thanks to today’s grants from the Federal Lands Access Program, the Columbia Gorge Express will expand to serve Gateway Transit Center, Rooster Rock State Park and Multnomah Falls with larger buses and bus stop amenities. In 2018, the Columbia River Express will run daily and add a stop in Hood River and additional destinations.

Additionally, the Federal Lands Access Program awarded ODOT $300,000 to work with stakeholders to develop additional strategies to address growing congestion within the area as part of the Historic Columbia River Highway Congestion Mitigation Plan. This funding will combine with Multnomah County’s recent award of $75,000 through ODOT’s Transportation Growth Management program.