Forum addresses congestion in gorge
The Historic Columbia River Highway between Ainsworth and Bridal Veil remains closed because of lingering effects from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, but when that section of highway reopens, congestion is likely to return.
The Oregon Department of Transportation hosted an open house on Monday, May 21, at the Marine Park Pavilion at Cascade Locks Marine Park along the Columbia River to discuss ways to mitigate congestion and improve safety along that stretch of road.
Heavy traffic in the area has been an issue since 1996, when a study on the topic was first conducted, said ODOT National Scenic Area Coordinator Terra Lingley. That study and follow-up research has found that, while there is congestion in the area, there aren't a lot of crashes, but the perception lingers that the area is unsafe.
"It's a known problem," Lingley said. "This is our chance to look for creative solutions."
The congestion isn't caused by the number of cars on the road, but rather because of drivers trying to find parking at Multnomah Falls, which is accessible from the historic highway. That parking lot remains closed because of effects from the fire, while the parking lot accessible from Interstate 84 is open.
A few proposed solutions include turning a section of the highway into a one-way road. This idea has been met with sharp criticism from a few residents in the area.
Other ideas include restricting parking in a variety of ways, expanding shuttle service and encouraging more bike and pedestrian travel.
Local resident Mark Libby voted to improve conditions to lessen the impacts to the natural resources and "to expand the alternatives to illegal parking when the parking lot is full."
Kent Kalsch, ODOT transportation maintenance manager, said the input they received was mixed.
Many participants said they didn't want oversize vehicles on the highway, while others voiced their support for expanded shuttle service.
"You read the comments, and it's both sides of the coin on a better solution," Kalsch said.