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Rebuilding Mitchell Point Tunnel key to 73-mile path to recreate historic highway

The Oregon Department of Transportation may rebuild Mitchell Point Tunnel, an iconic passage built in 1915 for cars traveling the Historic Columbia River Highway through the Columbia River Gorge and closed in 1953.

The reconstruction would help create an uninterrupted path from Troutdale to The Dalles.

However, the only way to traverse all 73 miles of the Historic Columbia Highway State Trail would be on bike or foot because that path includes sections of the highway that were reconstructed for non-motorized travel only, said Don Hamilton, ODOT public information officer.

Many of the path's non-motorized sections were created by redeveloping portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway that were removed during construction of Interstate 84.

Creating a path through Mitchell Point is one of the latest bike and pedestrian projects for developing the State Trail.

"It's a very exciting effort," Hamilton said. "It's developing into a real world-class attraction without attracting a lot of new traffic. It's going to be beautiful."CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: OREGON DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION - The original Mitchell Point Tunnel contained five window soverlooking the Columbia River Gorge. The tunnel was removed in 1966 for the widening of what is now Interstate 84.

ODOT created seven plans for how to connect Mitchell Point in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Hood River into part of the bike and pedestrian path. From those ideas, ODOT submitted three for public comments.

The Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee and the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed the plan to construct a 570-foot tunnel in the style of the original passage and build a connecting trail at Mitchell Point.

Two other options for connecting Mitchell Point include a longer, 1,335-foot tunnel, or a bridge and a trail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $28 million to the Oregon Department of Transportation to create a trail through Mitchell Point.

The original Mitchell Point Tunnel, which was demolished in 1966, contained five large windows overlooking the Columbia River. The current plans call for the construction of one window, but more could be added during the planning stages.

Constructing a tunnel at Mitchell Point will leave only a five-mile gap between Viento State Park and Ruthton Park before the Historic Columbia Highway State Trail is completed, as 65 of the original 73 miles have already been reconnected.

History of the tunnel

A tunnel was first constructed at Mitchell Point on the Historic Columbia River Highway in 1915 with five arched windows overlooking the Columbia River.

The tunnel was closed in 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 for the widening of the highway that is now Interstate 84.

Design work for the Mitchell Point Crossing will continue through 2019.

For more information about the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail visit, www.historichighway.org.

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