Scenic USA - Oregon

Oneonta Gorge Bridge and Tunnel

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Oneonta Gorge Bridge and Tunnel - Columbia River Highway State Trail, OR

Photos by Denny Barnes
Denny Barnes Photography

   Wishing to include as many scenic wonders throughout the Columbia River Gorge, highway planners tackled the Oneonta Gorge on the route. Here four major waterfalls descend from the high gorge walls, including the Lower, Middle and Upper Oneonta falls. Part of a wonderful 2.7 mile hike, the falls were first photographed by Carleton Watkins in 1849. It's unclear when, but the waterfalls and gorge area took on the name for Watkins’s home town back in New York.
   Built in 1914, county highway contractors were tested during highway construction in the Oneonta Gorge area. A 200 foot high basaltic outcropping could only be passed with the aid of a tunnel. Carefully blasting their way through the rock, crews manage to preserve the thin outer edge of the cliff face. Oneonta Gorge Tunnel - Columbia River Highway State Trail, OR Douglas fir was used to line the interior of the tunnel to protect its future highway travelers. After the Oneonta Gorge Bridge was completed the following year, this dramatic section of the scenic highway was ready for travel.
   Pacific Coast moisture and periods of frost and thaw cycles continued to plague the tunnel's integrity. Rock spalling and rotten timbers continued until this section of Route 30 was bypassed on a lower unused rail route.
   More than 60 years had passed since the bridge was abandoned and the tunnel back-filled, when the idea of bike and walking path surfaced, utilizing the bridge-tunnel combo. Thanks to a multi-agency partnership, a restoration project reopened the 125 foot tunnel, replicating the original supporting timbers and replacing the dry-stacked rock entrance surround. Today the four span concrete bridge, with its distinctive cap and arch guardrail, and Oneonta Tunnel restoration project adds a popular section to the historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. A grand reopening in 2009 dedicated this walking-biking trail section, which will one day extend 73 miles from Warrandale to Hood River.

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