Work is underway on one of the most highly-anticipated projects in the awe-inspiring Columbia River Gorge. The Mitchell Point Tunnel, the long-gone but long-celebrated highlight of the old Columbia River Highway, is ready for its new life on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Work on the new tunnel began this spring, with completion expected in 2023.
Today one can find the old Mitchell Point Tunnel only in aging sepia-toned photographs. It opened in 1915 and became a celebrated highlight of the old scenic road. The old tunnel’s alignment was near the 19th century wagon road. The real attraction, though, wasn’t the history but the presence of five arched windows looking out onto the Columbia River.
But by 1953, the tunnel was too small, too narrow and too hazardous for modern transportation so the Oregon Department of Transportation (then, the Oregon Highway Department) closed it, and 13 years later it was destroyed to make way for the interstate highway adjacent to the river.
Recognizing the past
Time leaves many behind, but not the hidden treasures along the mighty Columbia. In 1986, Congress created the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act and that motivated the Oregon legislature to commit to restoring the old highway to its glory days of the 1920s.
ODOT is now joining with many partners, including U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Parks and Recreation, Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway, Western Federal Lands, Travel Oregon and others, to restore all 73 miles of the historic highway, from Troutdale to The Dalles. Some segments are accessible to cars and cyclists. Some segments, known as the Historic Highway State Trail, are accessible only by people walking, rolling or biking. That includes the new Mitchell Point Tunnel.
ODOT and contractors broke ground this spring on the tunnel, and when construction is complete in 2023, there’ll be a 655-foot tunnel with five arched windows looking out on the river, reminiscent of the original passage. Our team expects the tunnel to become a cherished gem of the State Trail and an attraction for visitors from around the world.
The new tunnel is one of three trail segments yet to be connected. To the west, another trail segment should begin construction in 2022, which leaves just one 1.6-mile segment remaining.
To learn more, visit the website. Happy trails!