An early July bike ride up to Mount Hood from the Valley floor led Hood River physician Lee Greenwald to an epiphany - and not simply because of the breathtaking vistas along his route.
Observing the massive road construction project underway by the Federal Department of Transportation-Federal Highway Administration between milepost 65.32 and 68.23, otherwise known as the Highway 35 Betterment Project, Greenwald became curious about the ultimate results of the project.
"I started researching the proposed highway changes and the near 3-mile-long temporary detour road being put in along 35," said Greenwald. "I had also heard about another huge impact to the area with the proposed Mt. Hood Meadows Twilight parking lot project in the middle of the Nordic trails."
Observations of the extensive roadside clearing on Highway 35 plus Greenwald's concerns as a resident and Nordic skier led him to seek answers and, ultimately, make an unusual proposal.
Why not have the two projects work together - keeping the temporary road and using it for parking - thereby saving public money slated to be spent tearing out the temporary route, while saving trees and existing Nordic trails at the same time?
A list of objections may develop from multiple agency perspectives; ODOT's transportation maintenance manager, Jim McNamee, has already weighed in with concerns about drifting snow, parking located below highway grades and flooding from creek course changes; but Greenwald contends that it is vital to ask how these obstacles might be worked out.
"The FHWA could save a lot of money by not having to tear out miles of asphalt," said Greenwald. "Meadows could have access to more parking sooner and at less cost. We'd also keep the Nordic trails that are slated to become a parking lot.
"I have met with the FDOT project manager, Greg Gifford, the project chief engineer, Chuck Mikkola, and their environmental specialist, Elisa Carlsen. On our initial meeting they felt that my proposal was feasible from their perspective."
Gifford confirmed, "Greenwald's idea is feasible, if not plausible.
"This is something we could explore. Because we haven't been constructing the temporary road with a long-term use in mind, we would have to see if it is wide enough; long enough; whether there could be allowable access from Highway 35, and so on. We still have over a year of construction to go," Gifford said.
According to the Mt. Hood Forest Service website under the land management project summary, Meadows has requested 12.5 acres of land within the Nordic ski area west of Highway 35 to be cleared in order to develop a 1,000-car parking area, ski services building and maintenance shed area.
Under the current Twilight proposal, the Hanel and Little Loop trails would be eliminated.
"I did some research and found that Meadows' proposed parking lot was just 300 yards away from the entrance to the Betterment project's planned detour road - which in itself could create 500 to 800 parking spaces if left in place after the completion of the highway. It seemed like these entities should be talking to one another," said Greenwald.
According to FHWA plans for the highway project, the temporary frontage road, which will leave behind a small permanent extension to the Teacup Lake Nordic Ski Area parking lot, is scheduled to be torn out and replanted with trees at project's end.
According to the FHWA website project description, "…work will include construction of temporary traffic lanes, lane widening for temporary traffic, construction of road embankment, installation of new bridges and large drainage structures (culverts), the placement of aggregate and asphalt. The Clark Creek Sno-Park will also be removed as a part of this action and the wetland area in and around it will be restored." The anticipated completion timeframe is late fall of 2012.
Noting the Aug. 8 deadline for suggested alternatives to the parking lot project, Greenwald quickly began talking with "anyone who might be able to see a way to coordinate these efforts."
Greenwald's submitted alternative proposal summarized a possible cooperation between the proximal, yet currently unconnected efforts to clear trees and add pavement.
Text from his letter is as follows:
"I propose an alternative to the Mt. Hood Meadows (MHM) initiated Twilight parking lot proposal … intended to create additional safe parking for MHM's approximately six to ten peak use days each winter …
"My proposal is to ask the FDOT (FHWA) to not remove this detour road, and extend the snow park connecting Teacup Snow Park to Pocket Creek Snow Park. This elongated snow park could accommodate an additional 800 head-in parking spaces …
"This proposed snow park could also be a great resource for Nordic skiers on both sides of 35. There are several large box culverts and the Clark Creek bridge that could work as pedestrian underpasses …
"This elongated parking lot on public land would be available for public use year round, not behind a locked gate half of the year …
According to federal protocol, Greenwald's proposal will be reviewed against the project statement of need and will either be forwarded for further analysis or deemed inadequate to address the stated needs. This determination should occur in early September, according to Jennie O'Connor Card, U.S. Forest Service planner assigned to the project.
"The world is in a recession, there are huge constraints; and it's not only our country that is divided on taxation and spending issues. Where we must begin to agree, is to recognize the value of the frugal use of our collective resources," Greenwald said.
Greenwald has also contacted Matthew Drake, CEO of Mt. Hood Meadows, to propose collaborative meetings.
"Mr. Drake has his own considerations, but public resources, in this case mainly funds and environmental integrity, should not squandered. Finding bridges where people can realize their mutual interests, and move together constructively is delicate, elusive stuff, but worth an attempt."
The Forest Service, FHWA, ODOT, MHM and other potential stakeholders would all need to participate in evaluating feasibility. Re-worked designs, construction cost estimates and maintenance concerns would require analysis.
Greenwald's proposal does not pose or respond to all the potential questions and costs related to implementation of the idea, but does open the door to examine the possible efficiencies and alternatives for meeting public need - the intent of the "public comment" process required of every federal project.
A Freedom of Information Act request has been submitted by the Hood River News to obtain source documents from the U.S. Forest Service in response to both the original Mt. Hood Meadows proposal for the Twilight parking lot expansion and additional maintenance facilities, along with other related documents.
Look for a follow-up article with additional detail in the coming weeks.
Those wishing to seek information on the projects may view project and proposal summaries at the Mt. Hood National Forest website, under the Land Management and Resources tab, sub-tabbed under Projects.
The FHA Highway 35 Betterment Project information may be found at: www.wfl.fhwa.dot.gov/projects/or/highway-35.
Additional public information on the Twilight Parking Lot Project may be requested from firstname.lastname@example.org.