Gorge Commission reviews proposed road standards

The Gorge Commission subcommittee charged with reviewing scenic resources sections of the Management Plan is recommending a new standard that would give transportation agencies more flexibility for road projects on the National Scenic Area’s major highways.

Meeting in White Salmon on May 20, the Scenic Resources Committee decided that projects on roads designated as Key Viewing Areas (KVAs) should blend in, rather than be visually subordinate, with the surrounding landscape.

The next Scenic Resources Committee meeting, open to the public, is scheduled from 3-8 p.m. Thursday at the White Salmon Library, located in the Town and Country Plaza. The new “harmonious” standard would require development on the KVA highways, which include Interstate 84, Washington State Route 14 and the Historic Columbia River Highway, to “borrow elements from the landscape setting as much as possible.”

Over the past decade, Gorge planners and road engineers have found it difficult to meet the standards that require projects not to dominate the landscape.

“Highway or parks departments and agencies that implement the National Scenic Area Act have had difficulty in the past resolving differences about how roadway projects — such as bridges, rockfall protection structures and parking areas — could meet standards that require projects to be subordinate to the landscape,” said Brian Litt, a senior planner with the Gorge Commission.

The proposed standard would require highway projects to fit into the Gorge landscape, and would include specific guidelines for designing projects.

“This approach would replace visual subordinance and retention with a standard that meets practical needs of our main transportation corridors while still requiring solutions that protect scenic quality,” Litt said.

“This policy would need to be implemented through detailed criteria, such as specifying designs and construction materials, that would conform to the harmonious standard for highway improvements.”

“I like the direction you’re going with this; it’s a positive step,” June Carlson, area manager for the Metro East section of ODOT’s Region One, told the Committee.

Chuck Ruhsenberger, area engineer for WSDOT’s Columbia Gorge Area Engineering Office, told the Committee he “tentatively endorses” the proposed change.

“This approach provides the flexibility called for by our partners who have struggled to meet the current guidelines for some projects very close to Key Viewing Areas,” Litt said.

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