Even though the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks is a critical part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the bridge doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate the thousands of hikers and bikers who annually cross over between Oregon and Washington. The Port of Cascade Locks is working to change that by establishing a dedicated pedestrian pathway on the Bridge of the Gods.
“What we’re proposing is finally completing the Pacific Crest Trail after all these years,” said Mark Johnson, the port’s government affairs director.
The Bridge of the Gods was first built in 1926 and is in relatively good structural shape, “but obviously, the needs and use of that bridge have changed since those times,” Johnson said, referencing the increase of recreational activity in the Gorge and the expanding bike corridor. Since the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge isn’t equipped for pedestrian traffic either, there are no places for pedestrians to safely cross the Columbia between Portland and The Dalles. “This would change that,” Johnson said.
“It will really be a boon for the community in terms of continuing to access recreation,” he said, adding that it would help “make Cascade Locks a hub when it comes to the hiking and biking community.”
The Port of Cascade Locks has been working with the idea of a pedestrian path across the Bridge of the Gods for a long time now, Johnson said, and is currently working to secure $1.5 million from the State of Oregon for the planning and design work needed for the pedestrian lane, which would tentatively be attached to the side of the bridge, with no changes made to the vehicular lanes.
“It really is a recreation project,” Johnson said. It will also allow the port to upgrade the structural resiliency of the bridge and “strengthen it for the long haul,” which may be essential in case of a major seismic event, Johnson said.
The project does face a hurdle when it comes to securing federal funding because federal law requires toll bridges that receive federal funding to dedicate all collected toll revenue to maintenance and operation of the bridge, which the Port of Cascade Locks does not. Bridge of the Gods toll revenue goes to funding all areas of the port, Johnson said, including bridge maintenance and the rapidly developing industrial district.
The port has been working closely with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield), who chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, towards amending federal language to allow this specific project to receive federal funding. The project also has federal support from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Hood River), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Portland), and state support from Sen. Anna Williams (D-Hood River) and Rep. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River). The project has also recieved support from Travel Oregon, the Pacific Crest Trail Association and representatives on the Washington side, including Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-Goldendale).
Representatives from the Port of Cascade Locks will testify in Salem on April 9, at 8 a.m., and Johnson said he is confident the bill granting state funding to the project will pass.
The Port of Cascade Locks’ current focus is “building the community to be economically viable in itself” by bringing in jobs and businesses, said General Manager Paul Koch in an earlier interview, adding that the community has added approximately 85 new jobs in the last 10 years and plans to continue that growth. The port is currently working with pFriem Family Brewers to establish a beer production and warehouse facility, a project that’s expected to break ground within the next few months.
“There’s a lot of attention focused on this community,” Johnson said of Cascade Locks. “Their (the port’s) work and persistence has really paid off… (and) a lot of hard work is coming to fruition now.”