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Fixing 35: Highway ‘siren call’ answered

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

February 28, 2007

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden has helped secure $13.8 million in federal funding to develop a plan that will make Highway 35 less vulnerable to future storm damage.

Another $17 million is being turned over to Oregon by the Federal Highway Administration/ U.S. Department of Transportation to repay some costs for emergency repairs. Highway 35 and five other state roadways had major washouts during severe flooding in November.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has spent $4.5 million to date on the rebuilding of Highway 35, according to spokesperson Shawn Ulhman.

He said the agency is planning to spend about $2 million more within the next year to complete that work.

“The federal government has responded to the siren call from Oregon’s Congressional delegation and state and local leaders and is stepping up to the plate to help keep the state’s roads safe and reliable,” said Walden.

He went to bat for the money after visiting the destruction left behind by massive mudflows down the slopes of Mount Hood on Nov. 7. Walden said similar problems have been occurring for decades within the National Forest and it is time to dedicate money toward a permanent solution.

A FHA study has identified seven damage-prone sites along a 20-mile stretch of Highway 35 between Baseline Road and the White River. However, Walden said there are still many environmental and planning issues to work out before any remedy can be enacted.

“This funding is a recognition by the federal government that we have to figure out a more appropriate way to cross the White River so we can avoid these closures,” said Walden.

During the most recent event, about one million cubic yards of glacial sediment cascaded into several waterways. Water filled with huge boulders — some the size of pickups — and woody debris swept down the White River. A new river channel was carved through the pavement north of the bridge and the old riverbed was completely filled with sediment.

Giant culverts were installed under Highway 35 to accommodate the new river channel for the time being.

Damage on a lesser scale also took place along Clark and Newton creeks to the north.

“The Oregon Department of Transportation and their partners pulled off an amazing feat in quickly reopening Highway 35. But the continual problems on the highway demand serious attention and serious solutions and this federal assistance should be a start,” said Walden.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski praised Walden and other Oregon officials for pursuing the federal dollars. He requested FHA assistance immediately following the late-fall storms. Oregon’s lead official also credited the quick response of ODOT for getting the passage to Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, the largest private employer in Hood River County, reopened less than one month after the flood.

“I want to thank Oregon’s Congressional delegation for their continued leadership in Washington, and the many hard workers at ODOT and private contractors who responded with great professionalism and expediency to get our roads operating safety again,” said Kulongoski.

“This coordinated response is an example of private and public partners working together to keep our roads safe and our economy strong.”

Rep. Patti Smith joined Walden and other dignitaries on a tour of the washouts along Highway 35 in November. At that time she was already working to get additional warning and speed signs along nine more miles of Highway 26, which links with 35, that would be designated as a safety corridor.

She said the state highways are essential to provide passage for both recreation and commerce over the mountain.

“I’m glad to see these federal dollars infused into Oregon to correct one of our ongoing safety issues,” she said.

Walden said it will cost much more than has been allocated to stabilize Highway 35. However, he said the money should be enough to get a viable plan underway.

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