By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

In a recent presentation to the Brookings City Council, South West Area Commission on Transportation (SWACT) Chair Gary Milliman said he had sent a letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission asking for a “preliminary feasibility study for a more permanent solution to the Hooskanaden slide.”

The letter asked for the study to include a study of short-term improvements for Carpenterville Road as well and emphasized the need to address economic as well as transportation costs associated with repeated slides at Hookanaden.

SWACT is a 27-member advisory committee consisting of local officials and transportation system stakeholders in the Curry, Coos and Douglas Counties geographic area. Milliman’s presentation was at the May 13 SWAC meeting.

Milliman referenced a local, federal and state coalition created in California in response to the slides at Last Chance Grade on U.S. 101 south of Crescent City. He said the coalition had developed a plan and a schedule for a long-term solution “with a completion date of 2039.”

The California Transportation Commission recently approved $45 million for required environmental studies to build a highway bypass around Last Chance Grade.

California Transportation Commission Engineer Chris Traina said a number of alternative routes have been proposed for the bypass because U.S. 101 “has been progressively shifting westward and downward there, due to storm events and earth movements.”

Del Norte County Supervisor Chair Lori Cowan said “If Last Chance Grade was to fail completely, it would be devastating to Del Norte County with a loss of over $1.5 billion for regional businesses annually, and losses would also impact Humboldt County, Southern Oregon and beyond.”

Milliman, noting the length of time set aside for the fix at Last Chance Grade said, “That’s 20 years away. We need to get started on forming a similar coalition to address Hooskanaden, which has many similarities to Last Chance Grade and could have similar economic impacts.”

The Hookanaden area of U.S. 101 slid starting the week of Feb. 25, closing both lanes of the highway and diverting traffic to Carpenterville Road — the only alternative. A single lane was built by Tidewater Construction in March, and two lanes were opened earlier this month, but they sit atop a temporary roadway.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) said in its report to SWACT that more than $1 million has been spent to repair the current slide as of May 6, and ODOT planned a more permanent repair in October.

According to Milliman, ODOT estimated the total repair costs at $4 million and had plans to work with transit operators, local businesses and hospitals to plan for detours. However, that cost is only for a “more permanent” fix at the slide.

The current plan for Hooskanaden, according to ODOT, is to rebuild U.S. 101 back to its original alignment, complete hillside work including closing cracks, address drainage issues and reshape ditches.

Brookings City Councilor Ron Heneskpog noted the land has been sliding at Hooskanaden for years, called the area a “land glacier” and said he was told nearly 200 feet of earth sits on top of bedrock there, “a phenomenal amount of dirt, a phenomenal problem.”

Three long-term, possible solutions presented by ODOT with high-level cost estimates included an upgrade to Carpenterville Road as a reliable alternative route, a mitigation of the slide at Hooskanaden or the construction a two-lane suspension bridge. The bridge would cost an estimated $350 million, the upgrades to Carpenterville $440 million and the mitigation of the slide, $302 million.

Milliman and Hedenskog recommended ODOT work on upgrading Carpenterville on an ongoing basis in addition to any other work proposed.

“It’s not likely any of these three options would meet a cost/benefit analysis,” Milliman said. “Any of these options is well beyond the capacity of any existing state highway funding program.”

The annual, historic cost of maintaining the area sits at $75,000 he said, and he cited three “major events” at the location since 1977 with a cumulative cost of $5 to $7 million.

Because of the large differences in cost between a permanent solution and temporary fixes or maintenance, a coalition should be formed to look at and address economic costs to the state and the area as well as repair costs, according to Milliman. This was what was done in California, he added, and that coalition aims to gain federal money for the long-term solution as well.

Milliman noted many businesses were affected by this year’s slide and would be again by any future slides. Several local businesses including Coast Auto Center, Agate Realty, Cal-Ore Life Flight and Curry Transit wrote letters in support of SWACT’s move to create a coalition and work toward a permanent solution for Hooskanaden.

Cal-Ore Life Flight CEO Dan Brattain said EMS guidelines require ambulances transport emergency patients to the nearest hospital and the detour to Carpenterville caused delays in response to patients and in getting them to the emergency room.

He asked for a more permanent solution to the recurring problem at Hooskanaden Slide and improvements and repairs to Carpenterville Road.

Coast Auto Center experienced disrupted deliveries of parts and vehicles, according to President Ron Walker. He added customers were upset that their new vehicles could not be delivered as promised or their vehicle could not be repaired due to parts delivery delays.

Curry Public Transit (CPT) suspended bus service between Brookings and Gold Beach and modified the Coastal Express routes coming from North Bend/Coos Bay to turn around at Gold Beach, according to its statement. CPT said from Feb. 25 to March 11, service was discontinued or altered because Carpenterville Road was being used as an alternate route and posed dangers because of its “narrow, winding, irregular road surface and the constant presence of chip and logging trucks, large delivery vehicles and RVs taking up more than their own lane around curves.”

Milliman pointed to these and other economic concerns as justification for a broader outlook for permanent solutions.

Curry County Commissioner Court Boice, who serves on SWACT with Milliman, called Milliman an effective chair and praised his work for Curry County, “especially now with the poor condition of our Highway 101.” He added Milliman is gaining important results there.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com

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