“Curiosity has led me to explore the elaborate ramp on the school side and then check out the even more elaborate staircase on the other side of the road,” Berry said. His question was selected by fellow readers in search of an answer. “It just struck me that a lot of work and money went into building it, and I wondered what the purpose was. Was it added when 99th Street was widened to allow safe crossing for the students? Is it just a service tunnel? Was it a safety concern?”
As Berry noted, the only controlled crossings near Columbia River High School are more than half a mile apart. An active underground tunnel would be useful, especially as housing developments in the area continue to bring in more residents.
He guessed the tunnel was added in the 1990s when Northwest 99th Street was expanded. It was a good guess.
Although a firm answer was not easy to come by.
We initially believed the tunnel was built by the school to allow safe crossing for its students. But when asked, Vancouver Public Schools had little information. VPS Communications Director Pat Nuzzo said the tunnel is just to the side of the school’s property and suggested it was actually part of the Clark County trail system.
“We believe it was closed years ago for safety reasons,” Nuzzo said. But nothing was for sure.
“We met with the county parks division and Sheriff’s Office, and we concluded the (underground pass) was probably a whole lot safer than people getting hit crossing the road,” county engineer Gregg Gifford said in March 1991. “We’re going to light it, and the pass will be wide open.”
Some parents reportedly feared the tunnel would “serve as a gathering spot for troublemakers.”
The project wrapped in late 1991. The trail was never extended.
Trail’s future unknown
The Cougar Creek Trail’s future was also the subject of a Clark Asks question. While trying in vain to find out when the tunnel closed, I stumbled upon an answer of sorts.
Mize said plans to build the trail were derailed when the county missed an opportunity to acquire a critical piece of property near Columbia River High School.
“The county’s top priority for Cougar Creek Trail is to extend the trail south to the undeveloped Cougar Creek Woods Community Park site,” Mize said. “Its second priority would be to take the trail farther south to Northwest 99th Street. The third priority would be to build the final trail segment to Northeast Hazel Dell Avenue, south of Northeast 88th Street.”
The county’s failure to build out the trail may be one factor in the tunnel’s closure. “Troublemakers” may be the other.
No formal records offer explanation, but both the county and Vancouver Public Schools said the tunnel was closed because it was being used by students as a gathering place. The layers of graffiti and stretched fencing with holes just wide enough for a person to slip through show at least as it concerns Vancouver youth, a closed underground tunnel is just as good a meeting place as an open one.