By Laura Swanson
According to Lou Torres of ODOT, Tillamook County has been in the “bullseye” for these storm events that started nearly two weeks ago.
The initial storm with over 12” of rain in a 48 hour period, between December 8th and 9th, caused 13 landslides on Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 6, and there were over 20 areas of high water that also impacted and caused road closures and road bed deterioration. “The most important message to everyone is to drive with care,” Torres said. “There are so many hazards out there. We really appreciate everyone’s patience. We’ve been working really hard to get roads opened and cleared, but we have to ensure everyone’s safety. We know how really inconvenient it is for folks and things are looking up.”
Despite the continued record rainfall in Northwest Oregon, ODOT reports no new major road closures following the most recent storm. However, the soils remain saturated and any additional rainfall can cause other landslides and problems on Oregon roads.
In addition to no new road closures, contractors working for the Oregon Department of Transportation are making excellent progress on two emergency culvert repairs that closed area roads earlier in the month. OR 131 at Happy Camp Road in Tillamook County and OR 22 (Three Rivers Highway) at milepost 12 in Polk County are scheduled to open on Wednesday, December 23.
U.S. 101 at milepost 48 south of Wheeler continues to remain open to two-way traffic controlled by flaggers 24-7. The road was affected by the heavy rains causing a slide that damaged the road almost two weeks ago. A contractor will begin work on a major repair sometime in the next week. The project includes installing a row of piles and building a buttress on top. The project could take at least two weeks to complete but one lane of traffic should remain open during construction. “We will be able to keep the road open with one lane and flaggers during the repair work,” Torres said. “We have expedited the repair projects.”
ODOT maintenance crews have been busy cleaning and patching damaged roads. Also, crews continue to monitor numerous locations on state highways where the record rainfall has caused unstable hillsides and some roads to sink in places.
The emergency declaration allowed ODOT to act quickly to bring in contractors, and keep staff on a 24-hour shift rotation. “The Hwy. 101 repair south of Wheeler is estimated to cost $350,000,” Torres said. “All the repairs have not been assessed yet, but it’s going to be very expensive in the millions of dollars, and it’s going to likely increase with Winter really just getting started. Over the next few months, it is likely that other problems are going to surface as well. We just need to turn off the hose of water coming at us for awhile.”
The Tillamook County Road Department has 27 active repair projects attributed to the storms, landslides and flooding, and new problems continue to come up as the storms roll into the county. According to Jeanette Steinbach, Tillamook County Public Works, most of the county’s roads should be re-opened. “When ODOT reopens Hwy. 131, we will close Cape Meares Loop again as it remains unsafe and unstable, but we were fortunate that we were able to open it for local traffic only. We realize how difficult it has been for Oceanside and Netarts residents being cut-off and how important it was to provide some way out.”
The county road department in several instances of culvert blow outs that caused sinkholes and complete road destruction, crews were able to build temporary bridges on Harbor View Road in Barview, on Sollie Smith Road in Tillamook, and on Whiskey Creek Road. “Most of the county roads should be re-opened by Christmas,” Steinbach noted. “There are still local access only situations and a few closures, but we need to emphasize that everyone should be prepared for future problems. Have your 72 hour kits ready. There are several areas that are still unstable and other problems could appear at any time.” Initial estimates of damages are over $8 million dollars with information still coming in. This series of storms has had a huge impact on Tillamook County’s roads — more than other storm events, and winter is just starting. Tillamook County road crews and contractors have worked overtime to open these roads, clear landslides and keep our roads passable, but there are multiple hazards and everyone is strongly encouraged to drive with extreme care throughout the holidays. The county’s road status provides up-to-date information about current closures and repairs www.co.tillamook.or.us/gov/pw/include/RoadStatusMap.htm.
ODOT encourages travelers to be cautious while using all Northwest area highways, especially those on the Coast and in the Coast Range, where there are a number of hazards caused by record rainfall and strong winds. Travelers should expect rough roads, high standing water, unstable slopes and debris and fallen trees.
As always, be prepared for winter conditions when travelling through the mountain passes. Always carry chains and be ready to use them. Be patient. Go slow. Expect a long drive that could last hours. You never know when weather or traffic incidents will cause the road to be closed for extended periods.