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.’”