Oregon Legislature Approves First Funding for Bridge of the Gods

Taken on Sept. 27, 2023, of Washington state legislators and staff touring the bridge

Oregon lawmakers allocated $6 million to support engineering studies focused on preservation and seismic resiliency for the Bridge of the Gods, the official route of the Pacific Crest Trail across the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

The March 7 vote is a significant step toward safeguarding the iconic, nearly 100-year-old bridge in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The PCT is the first step in a long process that we hope will result in constructing an additional travel lane to safeguard hikers, pedestrians, cyclists, and horseback riders. The timing and cost of that project is yet unknown.

The bridge serves as a vital connection along the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada. Backpackers, hikers, horseback riders, and other recreationists seeking to cross from Oregon to Washington currently share the bridge’s narrow lanes with car and truck traffic. The PCTA has long advocated for a cantilevered walkway to get hikers out of the busy traffic lanes.

The legislature included this initial funding in its end-of-session omnibus bill, a catch-all funding bill for various projects and programs across the state. Among the provisions in the bill was a $6 million allocation to ODOT for distribution to the Port of Cascade Locks, which owns and operates the Bridge of the Gods.

With this funding, the Port will be able to pay for engineering and other services, such as site and soil assessments, to analyze the bridge’s structural integrity and identify seismic vulnerabilities to inform targeted preservation efforts. These initial studies will show whether the addition is feasible and provide a sense of what needs to be done to make it a reality.

Taken on Sept. 27, 2023, of Washington state legislators and staff touring the bridge

“We are very grateful that the Oregon legislature supported our project,” said Albert Nance, Port Commissioner. “These studies will help us map out the future of the Bridge of the Gods and better understand the improvements needed to extend its usable life.”

Representative Jeff Helfrich and Senator Daniel Bonham strongly advocated for the project during the legislative session. Representative Helfrich, who represents Oregon House District 52 and serves as House Minority Leader, played a key role in the allocation.

“We are fortunate to have Representative Helfrich and Senator Bonham represent us,” said Jeremiah Blue, Port Executive Director. “Their skill and tenacity in Salem translate into these types of local wins that make our communities more resilient in the face of these tremendous challenges.”

The Port plans to seek matching funds in next year’s legislative session in Washington State. For several years, the Port and the Pacific Crest Trail Association have worked together to advocate for the addition of the new lane. Last summer, we teamed up to make a presentation to Washington legislators and transportation experts. In the end, we took them out to the center of the span so they could experience what it was like to walk alongside cars and trucks.

From the PCTA’s perspective, a new lane for foot and bicycle traffic would be a great addition to the trail. But more importantly, it would be a boon to the local economies of Cascade Locks, Oregon, and Stevenson, Washington. These communities are essential to PCT travelers as places for respite and resupply, marking a key milestone in moving from one state to another. They also are becoming more dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation, and a pedestrian-friendly lane on the bridge would bring many people who would want to walk out to the middle of the span and admire one of the most beautiful views in the Pacific Northwest.

Taken on Sept. 27, 2023, of Washington state legislators and staff touring the bridge

This lane will create a much safer experience not only for PCT travelers but also for all the people who live and play in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It will also increase access to state and federal lands for recreation on both sides of the river.

We are grateful that Oregon legislators see the value in this project. PCTA’s Advocacy Program brings the power of your collective voice to the doorsteps of state and national lawmakers and land managers. You can support this work with a donation today.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.