U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) announced that he has secured language in the final congressional transportation agreement to help improve roads and bridges in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (NSA). The long-term, bipartisan transportation agreement between the Senate and the House reauthorizes and reforms federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs. It is expected to be passed by both chambers in the coming days.

“Residents and visitors alike depend on efficient and safe transportation in the Columbia Gorge. 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 our bipartisan proposal to do just that, and I worked hard to include it in the final House and Senate transportation agreement. When this proposal becomes law soon, it will be a win for Gorge residents, visitors, and our local economy,” Walden said.

Last month, Walden worked closely with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Camas) to include language in the House transportation bill that ensures that projects within NSA’s, including the Columbia River Gorge NSA, are eligible for federal transportation grants to help them serve the needs of their local economies, residents, and visitors. Walden then led a letter, signed by seven other Northwest Senators and Representatives, urging negotiators in the House and the Senate to include the language in the final agreement. For a copy of that letter, please click here.

During debate on the House floor last month, Walden urged his colleagues to recognize the importance of transportation projects in federal scenic areas. “While scenic areas like the Columbia Gorge provide tourist opportunities to thousands of visiting Americans from all across the country, this unique federal involvement provides distinct challenges in promoting growth of the local economy while conserving the natural beauty of the lands within the Gorge. Transportation infrastructure is an essential component to efficiently serve the interests of both local residents and visitors to the Scenic Area, and there is a strong need for regional transportation planning and improvement to major transportation elements,” Walden said. “Clarifying the eligibility of Scenic Areas throughout the nation for transportation grant funding would help ensure these areas are eligible for meaningful funding opportunities to enhance infrastructure within these unique federally managed areas.”

There are currently 12 NSA’s in eight states across the nation, including the Columbia Gorge NSA—the largest in the country. The Columbia River Gorge NSA consists of 292,500 acres along 85 miles of the Columbia River. Ninety percent of the total NSA is subject to strict land use and development restrictions, which has posed a distinct challenge to promoting the local economy, while providing opportunities for tourists to visit from around the country, and conserving the natural beauty of the Columbia Gorge.

The Gorge has major transportation elements like the Hood River Bridge and the Bridge of the Gods. While approximately 5.2 million vehicles and $110 million in goods travel across these bridges each year, they are in need of major improvements.