Fingers crossed: Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials say they plan to open U.S. 101over the repaired Hooskanaden Slide at high noon today (March 9).
ODOT crews plan to open a single gravel lane on the slide 12 miles north of Brookings, which has been closed for two weeks after torrential rainfall washed the roadway toward the ocean.
ODOT spokesman Darrin Neavoll said flaggers will provide traffic control and motorists should expect delays. Motorists are also advised to slow down and drive with caution.
Tidewater Contractors had amassed more than 15,000 tons of rock and gravel in the past two weeks in anticipation of creating a new road base once the slide stopped moving.
They’ve spent the bulk of this week moving it in to place to create a new roadway.
As of Thursday, the slide was moving at a rate of 6 feet every 24 hours, or 3 inches an hour, a rate at which ODOT officials says is safe to navigate vehicles. In total, the quarter-mile of roadway affected has fallen 30 to 40 feet and slipped 100 feet west.
Crews had hoped to get the lane open by Friday, but there was too much work involved, Neavoll added. In addition to laying rock, workers were removing saturated soil from the south end of the slide and diverting water where it threatened the stability of the hillside. ODOT will continue monitoring slide movement for the next several months.
“The last thing we (will) do is put a layer of finer rock to make it ride better,” Neavoll said. “We also have a small slide that has developed to the south of the bigger one and so we are going to address it so that is ready for traffic on Saturday.”
Work will continue as the slide moves — even with vehicles on it, said ODOT public affairs specialist Dan Latham.
“It’s in a continual state of movement,” he said. “When we first started to see noticeable cracks, the evening of Feb. 24, in geologic terms, it was pretty rapid at 2 feet an hour. By the end of that week, it slowed to 11 inches, and now it’s at 3 (inches). We’d prefer to have zero movement but it may be weeks before it’s down to zero.”
Crews will stop traffic, as needed, to place rock above and on the new roadway. Permanent work — at least as permanent as work can be on a continual, natural slide — might not begin for at least another two weeks. “If we were trying to rebuild the highway while it’s slipping a foot an hour, at the end of two days, the alignment would be moved out of place, and we would have to rebuild (anew),” Latham said. “This way we can excavate debris out of the way, pour rock to make a road surface and maintain it. We can continually add rock to keep it open.”
It will likely be late spring or early summer before paving can begin.
“We don’t want to pave it if we’re going to lose it in two, three weeks,” Latham said. “There’s not going to be an easy fix to it. It’s a quarter-mile wide and 700 feet from the ocean.”
Latham, who has worked for ODOT for 12 years, said he’s never seen so much damage in that area. There were huge slides there in 1995 and 2005, he said.
But he reminds people of the history. Thomas Creek Bridge opened in 1961 as part of the realignment of U.S. 101 to relocate it off Carpenterville Road, which has slide problems of its own. The only alternative alignment at this point, he said, is Carpenterville Road.
“It’s all about priorities,” Latham said. “If someone wants us to sink a huge amount of money (into an alternate solution), it may work; it may not. There’s no easy fix — and no cheap fix.”
Tidewater’s initial contract was for $300,000, but the current estimate is $2.5 million, Latham said — and likely to go up. And that wouldn’t address the perpetual sliding nature of the geology there, which could cost in the tens of millions of dollars if a solution could even be found.
In the meantime, driving between Gold Beach and Brookings will continue to be slow, with white-knuckled drivers gawking at the damage. And it will be a while before traffic returns to some semblance of normal.
“Our original goal was to have it to two lanes in two weeks,” Latham said. “But the goalposts have been moving. We don’t know when there will be two lanes under gravel.”