I-82 was an original route included in the Interstate Highway System by the federal Secretary of Commerce in 1956, based on a Department of Defense recommendation. The states of Washington and Oregon however did not agree on where to build the freeway, and the alignment of I-82 would remain incomplete and undergo several corridor studies.
Washington and Oregon disagreed on which cities would be served by the proposed route of I-82. The two major corridors considered for Interstate 82 were (1) the Umatilla route, beginning at I-84 in Stanfield, Oregon and traveling northwest through Umatilla toward Prosser, Washington or (2) from Interstate 84 at Pendleton, then northwest to Wallula and then northwest to Prosser in Washington. Alternative #1 was agreed upon by the two states, but it was protested by groups from the Tri-Cities concerned about an economic disadvantage by not being located on the Interstate. While Alternative #2 would have been longer, it would have allowed I-82 to connect more directly with the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick) and Walla Walla. These routes were debated for the ensuing decade, and compromise was finally reached in 1973.
As part of the deal, an alignment similar to Alternative #1 (Umatilla Route) was chosen. Interstate 82 would cross the Columbia River on an existing bridge (this bridge at Umatilla was built in the 1950s but was not part of any highway route — not even U.S. 395 — until it became the eastbound lanes of I-82),1 and the new freeway would follow a largely north-south route between the Umatilla bridge and I-84 southwest of Hermiston. The impacted Washington cities (Tri-Cities and Walla Walla) were satisfied through the Federal Highway Administration’s 1972-1973 approval of a spur route, Interstate 182, to serve them. Although there was a final attempt to change the route of I-82 in 1978, construction of the project finally commenced shortly thereafter. So over 30 years after the route was conceptualized, Interstate 82 was completed and opened to traffic on September 20, 1988 near Hermiston, Oregon.2
According to a Washington Highways article from the 1960s, Interstate 82 was at one time planned to be routed over the Naches Pass rather than due north to Interstate 90 at Ellensburg (thanks to Mark Bozanich for researching this proposal). This was never a definite routing; it was simply a “possible” routing. Naches Pass lies along the Naches River between Washington State Route 410 at Greenwater and SR 410 near Cliffdell. Routing Interstate 82 through this pass would alleviate traffic on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass and provide easy access between Tacoma and Yakima.
The highway department proposed building a highway of some type over Naches Pass for several decades. One plan would include building a 9000 foot long tunnel under the summit. This corridor is officially designated under state law as Washington State Route 168. SR 168 would connect with existing SR 410 near Greenwater west of Naches Pass and near Cliffdell to the east. Naches Pass is in a more direct line between Tacoma and Yakima than Chinook Pass, the pass presently crossed by SR 410 (formerly U.S. 410). SR 410 cuts through the northeast corner of Mt. Rainier National Park. Commercial traffic is prohibited in the park. Also, Chinook Pass is closed in winter due to heavy snow accumulation.
A new highway over, or under, Naches Pass would provide a direct Tacoma-Yakima connection, be open year round, and be open to cars and trucks. Such a route would link the agricultural Yakima Valley with shipping facilities at the Port of Tacoma. The highway department has no active plans to build the Naches Pass highway but state legislators from the Yakima Valley bring up the issue from time to time. Even if such a route is built, it may be a two lane expressway for several years before being upgraded to four lane, divided freeway.
A proposal surfaced in April 1999 to extend Interstate 82 south into Oregon. The State of Oregon was examining a possible north-south Interstate that would cost $1 billion and connect with the southern (eastern) end of I-82, as reported in “Eastern Oregon waits for new highway,” written by James Sinks, which appeared in The Bulletin. The possible alignments of the new highway would be:
- Madras route: From Umatilla through Heppner, Condon, Fossil and Antelope to Madras, where the interstate would replace Highway 97 south through Bend to the California border.
- Prineville route: From Umatilla through Heppner, Hardman, Spray, Prineville, Powell Butte to Highway 97 near Bend, then continue south to the border.
- Highway 395 route: From Umatilla through John Day, Burns and Lakeview.
According to the article, if the road was built someday, it would not be named Interstate 82, because north-south highways are odd numbered.3