I-84 reopens following rockslide

Water drains Monday afternoon from the newly cleared slope face at milepost 61 on Interstate 84, now fully open for the first time in five days.

Photo by Ben Mitchell.
Water drains Monday afternoon from the newly cleared slope face at milepost 61 on Interstate 84, now fully open for the first time in five days.

To the great relief of travelers and Columbia River Gorge businesses, all lanes of Interstate 84 opened Monday afternoon following the cleanup of a weather-related landslide that forced the closure of the freeway’s eastbound lanes for several days.

The landslide, which occurred a mile west of the West Hood River off ramp (exit 62), let loose more than 3,000 cubic yards of material Wednesday evening from a rock face on the south side of I-84. The debris tumbled into a jersey barrier located along the right eastbound lane of I-84 and pushed the barrier all the way into middle of the freeway’s eastbound lanes.

The incident caused the Oregon Department of Transportation to initially shut down all of I-84 eastbound from Troutdale to Hood River. One lane of I-84 westbound was also closed from milepost 61.5 to 60 near the landslide.

The closure caused a great deal of disruption to the normal flow of traffic through the Gorge as cars and semis were detoured to the narrower, slower, and curvier State Route 14 in Washington. At times, traffic could be seen backed up all the way over the Hood River Bridge and down SR 14 for nearly two miles. The situation was so bad at times that the Port of Hood River allowed motorists to pass through the toll plaza without paying in an effort to dislodge the gridlock.

To make matters worse, SR 14 suffered its fair share of landslides over the weekend, causing even further delays. The Washington State Department of Transportation reported that the agency responded to 29 reports of falling rocks on SR 14 just Friday morning alone and responded to another nine on Saturday morning. WSDOT also decided to close the highway’s westbound lane 10 miles east of Stevenson while crews worked to remove loose rocks from a basalt cliff face that was threatening the safety of motorists.

While drivers sat in traffic on SR 14, ODOT employees and contractors were busy working on their own problematic rock face on the other side of the Columbia. Dave Thompson, spokesperson for ODOT, reported that crews rappelled down the rock face and used crow bars and air bladders to break off any pieces of loose rock that posed a potential danger.

On Saturday, the efforts to haul away the rubble kicked into high gear and Thompson said crews literally worked around the clock to remove more than 3,000 cubic yards of debris — the equivalent of filling more than 300 dump trucks to capacity.

Where did all the rubble go? According to the city of Mosier, the rock that fell during the landslide was carted to the ODOT quarry located within the city limits because it was the “only site having sufficient size at a reasonable proximity to the rock fall site to allow for immediate stockpiling of the debris.” The city reported that 500 cubic yards of the material will be able for use in a current stream restoration project on the now-more-than-ever appropriately named “Rock Creek.” The rock could be made available for other projects, and the city noted that “having the resource on site will decrease the cost of these city projects significantly.”

Thompson was asked how much it cost ODOT to remove and truck the rock away, but he said it was “too soon” to provide a cost estimate.

ODOT also performed a large rock removal project in the exact same area after a landslide in January 2004 forced the closure of I-84. Thompson said the agency installed rock anchors and drains to help mitigate the impacts of future rock slides, but did not have an estimate readily available as to how much that project cost. A 2006 News story quoted Thompson as saying the project was budgeted at $1.5 million, but the final bill was expected to be much less.

When asked if that project could be considered a success in light of the recent landslide, Thompson responded that those efforts “got us nine years,” and added that the project was never meant to stop landslides altogether — just reduce their frequency.

“The truth of the matter is more will come down over time,” he explained, adding that “erosion is not something we can stop.”

Thompson said ODOT will continue to monitor the area for the time being for safety purposes.

“We’ll be giving that the extra eye,” he said. “It’s not something you just walk away from and say, ‘Yeah, we’re done.’”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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