We at the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the Washington State Department of Transportation are deeply troubled by the Sept. 24 story in the Klickitat Monitor newspaper that claimed the commission is putting scenic concerns before public safety at the Lyle Tunnel project on Highway 14. We place a high value on public safety and would not put people at greater risk.
In that story, Monitor editor Becky Blanton reported the Gorge Commission had ordered a black mesh used to catch falling rock be taken down once the Lyle Tunnel project is completed. Blanton failed to report the mesh is strictly a temporary safety measure. Once the project is completed the mesh won't be needed because a concrete portal, which extends out beyond the cliff face at the tunnel, will be in place to catch any falling rock.
"I told Becky (Blanton) when she interviewed me that our senior geotechnical engineer reviewed the installation of this mesh and agreed the mesh was not needed after the project was completed," said Chuck Ruhsenberger, Lyle Tunnel project manager for the state Department of Transportation.
Blanton also got it wrong when she reported that Ruhsenberger said the Gorge Commission has proposed " `moving the existing roadway closer to the river' or `blasting the mountain back' " as alternatives to leaving the mesh in place, creating delays that "could shut down the town of Lyle altogether, leaving merchants with yet another six months to a year or more of road work to comply with the Columbia River Gorge Commission's demand the area's `scenic resources' be protected."
In listing those alternatives, Ruhsenberger said he was giving Blanton examples of different ways rock fall issues can be addressed. Those alternatives could apply to a variety of locations along Highway 14.
We want to reassure all Gorge residents that public safety is the highest priority in the renovation work being done by WSDOT at the Lyle Tunnel. We also want to emphasize to all Lyle residents that the Gorge Commission has issued no alternative proposals for tunnel work that would adversely affect that community's businesses.
Public Outreach Coordinator, Gorge Commission
Lyle Tunnel Project Manager, WSDOT