Credit: Photo courtesy of the Port of Hood River
BRIAN SHORTT, Port of Hood River President, talks with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) and Port of Cascade Locks President Jess Groves before the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge on the Columbia River. Walden announced earlier this week his proposal to include National Scenic Areas for federal transportation funds has moved into the final stage before the U.S. House and Senate.
As of Friday, December 4, 2015
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) announced Tuesday he has secured language in the final draft of a U.S. congressional transportation agreement, which would include roads and bridges in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in the federal funding pool.
The long-term, bipartisan transportation agreement before the Senate and the House will reauthorize and reform federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs. Walden expects it to pass both chambers within the “coming days.”
“When this proposal becomes law soon, it will be a win for Gorge residents, visitors, and our local economy,” Walden said in a statement. “The federal government must recognize that unique areas like the Gorge should be eligible for transportation projects to replace crumbling roads and bridges.”
Last month, the House unanimously passed a bipartisan proposal, or piece of language associated with the greater transportation project. Walden worked closely with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Camas) on the Scenic Area language for the bill.
Walden then led a letter, signed on Nov. 16 by seven other Northwest Senators and Representatives, urging negotiators in the House and the Senate to include the language in the final agreement, and they found success.
According to the letter, the language would not “explicitly direct any funds towards any specific NSA, but it would ensure that they are eligible for discretionary funding programs.”
The Port of Hood River feels the Scenic Area language will put Gorge bridges and highways within a more visible category when federal projects come up in the future — the mix can be highly competitive.
“Just to get the language in there for us is a huge step,” said Port of Hood River President Brian Shortt. “Now we have this unique definition that we can tool up and use to our advantage.”
There are currently 12 National Scenic Areas in eight states across the nation, including the Columbia Gorge NSA—the largest in the country. It consists of 292,500 acres along 85 miles of the Columbia River. Ninety percent of the total NSA is subject to land use and development restrictions.
Major transportation elements in the Gorge, like the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks and the Hood River Bridge, will need serious attention in the future. The latter bridge will one day need a replacement, which could cost $270 million.
Shortt said the Hood River Bridge, built in 1926, originally was used for Model T’s. Almost 90 years later, the bridge hosts 4 million vehicles a year, including 100,000-pound freight trucks. Combined with the Bridge of the Gods, $110 million in goods travel across the bridges each year.