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US Route 26 on the Sunset Highway from downtown Portland to US 101

This past month I drove US Route 26 from downtown Portland westward over the Sunset Highway to US 101.


The Sunset Highway portion of US 26 refers to an approximately 75 mile portion of the highway from downtown Portland at Interstate 405 westward through; Washington County, Tillamook County and Clatsop County to US 101.


The Sunset Highway was constructed in segments between 1933 through 1949.   The Sunset Highway was initially planned to be named the "Wolf Creek Highway" but the present name was decided upon in  early 1946.  When first completed the route of the Sunset Highway carried OR 6 out of downtown Portland via Tanner Creek Canyon via Canyon Road to OR 2 near the Washington County Line.  OR 2 carried the remainder of the Sunset Highway westward to US 101.

On the 1939 Rand McNally Map of a partially completed Sunset Highway along with numerous proposed sections can be seen from Portland west to US 101.  Note; US 101 at the time wasn't aligned through Cannon Beach but rather the present route of OR 53.


The 1940 Rand McNally Map of Oregon shows OR 2 having been designated from US 101 eastward towards Timber.


The 1944 Rand McNally Map of Oregon shows the Sunset Highway extended eastward beyond OR 47 towards Banks.  The Sunset Highway and OR 2 was also extended westward to the new route of US 101 which had been completed through Cannon Beach.  OR 6 east of US 101 towards Gales also appears on the State Highway Map for the first time having been designated in 1942.


When the Sunset Highway was completed in 1949 it made for a logical extension of a US Route.  Between 1948 through 1952 the path of US Route 26 had been gradually extended westward from Guernsey, WY according to USends.com.  In 1952 US 26 was extended westward over the entire Sunset Highway to US 101 and on a multiplex to the ferry docks in Astoria.

The 1956 Shell Highway Map of Portland shows the route of US 26 leaving US 99W on Harbor Drive on a one-way couplet of Jefferson Street/Columbia Avenue to Canyon Road.  US 26 ascended Tanner Creek Canyon where it met the truncated OR 6 and continued westward on the Sunset Highway to US 101.


The 1956 Shell Highway Map of Oregon shows the route of US 26 on the Sunset Highway more clearly.


One of my side trips while visiting Portland was driving Old US 26 through Tanner Creek Canyon on Canyon Road.  Canyon Road is one of the most historic roadways in Oregon with origins dating back to the era when it was still a territory.

By the early 1850s a primitive dirt road between Portland and Tualatin Valley was in common usage in Tanner Creek Canyon.  In January of 1851 the Portland & Valley Plank Road company was charted by the territorial government of Oregon.  Construction on what came be known as the "Great Plank Road" began in Tanner Creek Canyon of September of 1851.  Initial construction of the Great Plank Road was slow with only 3 miles being completed during the first year.  In 1856 the Oregon Territorial Government hired the Portland & Taulatin Plank Road Company which completed the plank road by year end.

Since the era of the Great Plank Road the route of highways through Tanner Creek Canyon were infilled, widened and raised to modernize transportation.  This modernization ultimately resulted in Canyon Road being bypassed by the Vista Ridge Tunnels in 1969/1970.  Canyon Road and Old US 26 can still be accessed from the modern Sunset Highway eastbound via Exit 73 towards Jefferson Street.



Old US 26 on Canyon Road travels through Tanner Creek Canyon and becomes Southwest Jefferson Street as it passes under the Vista Avenue Viaduct.  The Vista Avenue Viaduct opened in 1926 and is an arch concrete structure 248 feet in length.  The Vista Avenue Viaduct replaced the 1903 Ford Street Bridge which was used as a streetcar line.   The Vista Avenue Viaduct unfortunately has come to be known for suicides due to the 120 feet height above Tanner Creek Canyon.











Old US 26 on Southwest Jefferson Street eastbound emerged from Tanner Creek Canyon and split onto one-way alignments through downtown Portland.  Eastbound Old US 26 traffic split onto Southwest Columbia Street at 18th Avenue whereas westbound Old US 26 was aligned on Southwest Jefferson Street.





A major change to US 26 on the Sunset Highway came when it was built to freeway standards in Tanner Creek Canyon following the completion of the Vista Ridge Tunnels in 1969 and 1970.  The eastbound Vista Ridge Tunnel was completed first in 1969 and is the longer of the two at 1,001 feet in length.  The westbound Vista Ridge Tunnel was completed in 1970 and is 949 feet in length.  Both Vista Ridge Tunnels have a 6.5% grade with a 35 degree turn radius at western portals.

Unrelated to the Sunset Highway but related to US 26 was the completion of the Astoria-Melger Bridge ("Astoria Bridge").  Prior to the completion of the Astoria Bridge US 26 had multiplexed US 101 into Astoria and terminated at US 30 at 14th Street and Marine Drive.  14th Street northward carried US 101 onto the 14th Street Ferry Terminal over the Columbia River to Washington.  At some point Marine Drive became routed for westbound traffic only and Commercial Street became eastbound only.   In the photo below this would have been the terminus of US 26 westbound at US 30 at 14th Street and Commercial Street, US 101 northbound would have continued to the left on 14th Street.


The Astoria Bridge was completed in 1966 which led to US 101 being realigned over it.  The completion of the Astoria Bridge also saw the truncation of US 26 to the Astoria Bridge landing at the new western terminus of US 30.   The photo below shows what would have been the west terminus of US 26 facing eastward towards the west terminus (yes I'm aware this is weird) of US 30.


According to USends.com US 26 was truncated in 2003 to a more logical terminus at US 101 at the western end of the Sunset Highway.  More information can be found on the USends.com Astoria end points Page.

With the history of the Sunset Highway and US 26 west of Portland out of the way onto the actual drive.  I approached US 26 westbound on the Sunset Highway via US 30 eastbound and Interstate 405 southbound in downtown Portland.   From I-405 south Exit 1D US 26 on the Sunset Highway can be accessed.







US 26 westbound on the Sunset Highway begins by approaching the Vista Ridge Tunnels.  The Vista Ridge Tunnels cut through the namesake formation west of downtown Portland in the Tualatin Mountains.  As noted above the 6.5% grade through the westbound Vista Ridge Tunnel is quickly followed by a quick turn into Tanner Creek Canyon.



As US 26 westbound climbs through Tanner Creek Canyon it passes by Exit 72 which accesses the many sites of Washington Park.




US 26 west has a truck climbing lane that is accessible via Exit 71A.


US 26 west climbs up Tanner Creek Canyon into Washington County and Beaverton.  Access to OR 8 on Canyon Road (former OR 6) is signed also from Exit 71A.




At Exit 69A US 26 westbound accesses OR 217.




West of OR 217 US 26 enters Tualatin Valley.  US 26 westbound on the Sunset Highway continues to skirt the City Limits of Beaverton until Northwest 185th Avenue at Exit 64.





US 26 westbound enters the Washington County Seat of Hillsboro.  US 26 westbound stays within Hillsboro to Helveita Road/Brockwood Parkway at Exit 61A/61B.  US 26 on the Sunset Highway west of Hillsboro enters open country and passes through North Plains before dropping to an expressway approaching the junction with OR 6.









US 26 west of OR 6 drops to a two lane road and is signed as 56 miles from Seaside.




US 26 westbound crosses West Fork Dairy Creek and picks up OR 47 northbound on a multiplex.





US 26 west/OR 47 north pass through the community of Manning.  Access to the Banks-Vernoia Trail is signed off of Pihl Road.





From Manning US 26 west is signed as 51 miles from Seaside.


OR 47 north splits from US 26 west near the community of Buxton.  Traffic headed to Stub Stewart State Park is directed to stay on OR 47 north.




US 26 west on the Sunset Highway past the split from OR 47 north is signed as 49 miles from Seaside.


US 26 west begins to ascend into the Northern Oregon Coast Range and passes under the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad ("POTB").  The POTB was built by the Pacific Railway and Navigation Company over the Northern Oregon Coast Range between 1906 through 1911.   In 1916 the POTB was acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The POTB stretches 101 miles from Tillamook northeast towards Portland.  The POTB was acquired by the Port of Tillamook Bay in 1990 which operated until the line was heavily damaged by storms in 2007.  The POTB while still damaged is leased as part of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.






US 26 west continues to ascend the Northern Oregon Coast Range and passes through the Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel.  The Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel was opened to traffic on the Sunset Highway in 1940 and 772 feet in length.








From the Dennis L. Edwards Tunnel US 26 west on the Sunset Highway is signed as 45 miles from Seaside.



US 26 west briefly dips into Tillamook and enters Tillamook State Forest.  Parts of Tillamook State Forest receive over 100 inches of rain a year and classify as rain forest habitat.









US 26 west on the Sunset Highway crosses above 1,500 feet near a vista point.









US 26 west of the peak of the Sunset Highway enters Clatsop State Forest.



US 26 west enters Clatsop County and passes by a Rest Area.







US 26 west begins to drop in elevation approaching the Nehalem River.  From the Nehalem River US 26 west meets OR 103 in Mishawaka.









US 26 west of OR 103 crosses the Nehalem River.  The Nehalem River Bridge is a 231 foot long arch concrete bridge which was constructed in 1939.



US 26 westbound passes through the community of Elsie.





From Elsie US 26 west is signed 23 miles from Seaside and Cannon Beach.


West of Elsie US 26 passes by Camp 18 which is a logging museum and restaurant.


US 26 west crosses East Humbug Creek which is a timber stringer structure built in 1934.


US 26 west passes through David Douglas County Park and crosses the Nacanicum River.  Access to Saddle Mountain Natural Area is signed by Saddle Mountain State Park Road.











US 26 west meets OR 53 which as noted above was the original alignment of US 101.



From OR 53 the route of US 26 is signed as 9 miles from US 101.


US 26 west crosses the Necanicum River again.




US 26 west has access to Klootchy Creek County Park approaching the terminus of the Sunset Highway.



US 26 west has guide signage directing traffic to the many sites of Lewis & Clark National Historic Park approaching US 101.  US 26 west and the Sunset Highway terminate at US 101 at an interchange.




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