By Bob Heye
KATU News (View original story and video)
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Transportation says more and more people are making the drive down Interstate 84 or along the nearby Historic Columbia River Highway into the Columbia River Gorge.
That's led to hour-long traffic backups along the historic highway where ODOT says traffic has increased 50% during the past decade.
ODOT studies in 2016 and 2017 also show parking lots at popular waterfall sites in the gorge reach capacity early most mornings and usually stay full until evening.
Jerry Elliott was grateful to find a parking spot at Multnomah Falls Wednesday afternoon.
"Kinda tight, but we fit OK," said Elliott, adding that he felt lucky. "Yeah, I do. I do. I've watched a lot of traffic come and go."
ODOT now has a crossing guard on duty Friday through Monday at Multnomah Falls to reduce traffic delays.
That change is part of a new transportation plan for the gorge.
But the agency says suggestions to shut down part of the historic highway to all but shuttles and local traffic would be difficult.
"Our gas tax dollars go to fund that, that highway, and so closing it to a select few is a hard thing to do," said Terra Lingley, ODOT Columbia Gorge Scenic Area coordinator.
That's exactly what's been done in Utah's Zion National Park, shutting down some roads and requiring visitors to board shuttle buses, all to cut down on traffic tie-ups at popular tourist sites.
The Friends of the Columbia Gorge group believes something similar is possible, and necessary, in the gorge.
"And if people want to drive, they can do it on I-84," said Kevin Gorman, Friends of the Columbia Gorge executive director. "But in that section, maybe you need to get on a shuttle and think through how to get through the gorge, like how you would to get through a national park."
One temporary solution might include expanding ODOT'S Columbia Gorge Express shuttle service.
But ODOT acknowledges it has to solve traffic congestion problems first to keep those shuttles from getting stuck in delays too.