The Historic Columbia River Highway could once again forge through formidable Mitchell Point and create a tunnel reminiscent of the iconic tunnel destroyed in 1966.
A proposed 570-foot tunnel and trail alternative won two critical endorsements recently as the preferred design for crossing Mitchell Point as part of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
On May 21, the Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee recommended the 570-foot tunnel and trail alternative and on June 13, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed the same design recommendation.
“The formal selection of a design alternative for the Historic Highway State Trail to cross Mitchell Point is an important milestone for the project,” said Rian Windsheimer, ODOT’s regional manager for the Portland area and the Columbia River Gorge. “ODOT is proud to be a strong partner with Oregon State Parks in our joint effort to reconnect the Historic Columbia River State Highway as a State Trail from Troutdale to The Dalles by 2022.
Constructing a crossing at Mitchell Point is one of the most challenging segments of the Historic Highway State Trail. Facing similar challenges as the original founders of the Historic Highway, ODOT engineers must design a trail in the complicated geology of the Columbia Gorge.
The 570-foot tunnel and trail alternative balances open-air experiences and views with the appeal of a tunnel that nods to the past. Adequate light within the tunnel and protection for potential falling rocks remain top challenges for engineers.
"When we started this process everyone on the Advisory Committee had a different idea about how to get around Mitchell Point,” said Arthur Babitz, chair of the Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee. “After listening to public comment and carefully studying the alternatives, we were unanimous that this option assures the best user experience while upholding the values of the National Scenic Area and the Historic Highway State Trail.”
Design work for the Mitchell Point Crossing will continue through 2019 and includes acquiring a Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area permit.
The tunnel plans currently include one arched window. The design consultant will explore adding more windows to the tunnel, further mirroring the historic 1915 tunnel with its five arched windows.
Insert next steps, cost, fund source, and highlight these funds are different from those used to build and maintain highways.
“The original highway was designed to connect people with a tremendous landscape, and new trail segments restore that connection and bring the beauty of the Gorge to more people while relieving congestion,” says Lisa Sumption, director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
The crossing will connect to western segments of the Historic Highway State Trail and east to Hood River and The Dalles.
Selecting a preferred design alternative for the Mitchell Point Crossing marks a major milestone in reconnecting the Historic Highway. Once current construction efforts are complete, only a five-mile gap between Viento State Park and Ruthton Park remains to complete the reconnection of the Historic Columbia River Highway as the State Trail.
“We’re confident that when the public sees this link in the trail completed in 2022 they will be as thrilled as Oregonians were when they first saw the original Mitchell Point Tunnel in 1915," Babitz said.
About Mitchell Point
Mitchell Point was the site of the iconic highway tunnel with five arched windows overlooking the Columbia River. It was constructed in 1915, closed 1953 because it could no longer accommodate higher traffic volumes, the growing size of vehicles and increasing rockfall hazards. In 1966, the tunnel was destroyed in the widening of the river-level highway, now Interstate 84.
ODOT received funds to design and construct the Mitchell Point Crossing and efforts are underway to incorporate Mitchell Point into the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
ODOT’s consultant began evaluating seven alternatives for constructing a crossing at Mitchell Point. These alternatives included tunnels, viaducts (bridges over land), combinations of both or a trail alongside I-84.
After analysis of current conditions and construction challenges, three alternatives were presented for public comment and consideration: a 570-foot tunnel and trail, a 1,335-foot tunnel, and a bridge and trail.
Learn more about the alternatives at: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=HCRHMP
About the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail
Sections of the Historic Highway between Dodson and Hood River were lost in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to construction of the water-level route that became I-84. ODOT is restoring several of these segments for non-motorized use.
Once the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is complete, previously severed stretches of the old highway will be transformed into a world-class cycling and pedestrian destination. No longer will cyclists need to travel on I-84 between Troutdale and The Dalles.
The State Trail is a project 30 years in the making.
Congress revived the old road as part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986, directing Oregon to connect these abandoned highway sections. And a year later the Oregon Legislature responded with the State Trail Reconnection Project to “remember, restore and reconnect” the Historic Columbia River Highway.
To date, 65 of the original 73 miles have been reconnected. The three-mile Wyeth to Lindsey Creek segment is scheduled for completion in 2019. That leaves five additional challenging miles to reconnect.
Learn more about the Historic Columbia River Highway and State Trail at: www.historichighway.org