Starting this spring, drivers on the Historic Columbia River Highway will need to purchase a permit to access the scenic route commonly known as the “waterfall corridor.” The road allows access to many popular tourist spots, like Multnomah Falls, in the Columbia River Gorge.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials say the new permitting system is to address heavy traffic.

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“It’s no secret how busy it’s been in the Gorge in the last couple of years,” said ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton. " We’re trying to do what we can to make a better experience in the Gorge, to make sure that people aren’t lined up and traffic is not so busy.”

The Multnomah Falls sign on Sept. 6, 2017 as the Eagle Creek Fire looms nearby.

FILE: The Multnomah Falls sign in 2017. Starting this spring, Oregon's Department of Transportation is imposing a permit for vehicles driven along the Historic Columbia River Highway from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. between Vista House and Ainsworth State Park.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra / OPB

ODOT will not make any money from this program, Hamilton said. The anticipated cost of the permit is around $2 per vehicle. Hamilton said the goal is “to make sure that we can reduce congestion and improve safety and make for a better experience in the Gorge.”

The new permits come with a deadline.

“Each permit will have a designated time window for arrival into the waterfall corridor,” Hamilton said. “They can come within the hour, and stay as long as they’d like in the area.”

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If you miss your window for arrival, your permit is no longer valid.

The permit will be required for the approximately 14-mile stretch between Vista House and Ainsworth State Park from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ODOT is still deciding how many permits to allow per day, as the permits do not guarantee parking.

The launch date is set for May 24, ending on Labor Day.

“After Labor Day we’re going to take a look and see if it worked,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to find out what tweaks are needed. ‘Do we want to do it again? How should it change?’”

ODOT is encouraging other forms of transportation to the Gorge to reduce traffic congestions and lack of parking.

“People that are going by [public] transit or by bike or by shuttle don’t have to pay for the permits at all,” Hamilton said.

In addition to private tours, ODOT says the best way to visit the waterfall corridor is to take the Columbia Area Transit bus from Gateway Transit Center in the Portland metro area, Cascade Locks, and Hood River directly to Multnomah Falls.

While many details are still being ironed out, Hamilton said he’s hopeful the program will create a more enjoyable experience at the Gorge.

“The Gorge is really Oregon’s crown jewel. Everybody in Oregon and in the region is very proud of the Columbia River Gorge,” Hamilton said. “We’re trying to continue to make this accessible and trying to ease the crowds a little bit to make sure that we can still have access to the Gorge and make sure it doesn’t get overrun.”

The permits will be available online two weeks in advance, or on-site. There will be three entry points where permits will be checked before accessing the highway.

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