Highway 530 at mudslide could be cleared for use in June

OSO — As Gov. Jay Inslee scanned the stretch of Highway 530 where workers were clearing mudslide debris on Thursday, he marveled at the progress.

State transportation officials told Inslee they hope to re-open the former highway by mid- to late-June. Although it will still be in rough shape, it should be faster and safer than an unpaved utility road in use now as a detour.

They also aim to have a permanent, elevated highway built by October, before flood danger increases.

“I think we’ve seen the power of teamwork, the power of compassion and the power of volunteers,” Inslee said.

Uncertainty surrounding the river could still pose engineering challenges, the governor added.

Inslee was making his first trip to slide-affected areas in about three weeks. He’s visited the area more than a dozen times since disaster struck on March 22.

The slide ran across the valley, leaving 10 million cubic yards of dirt, trees and debris strewn over a square mile. It buried 40 homes.

Searchers recovered the remains of 41 people killed by the slide. They scaled back search operations in late April. Two people remain missing and are presumed dead.

With odds of recovering more remains diminishing, authorities have turned their focus to rebuilding Highway 530, a vital economic link for Darrington and surrounding communities.

The governor received an update Thursday from Bill Vlcek, a regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation.

Crews have hauled away about 23,000 cubic yards of mud, about 20 truckloads per hour, Vlcek said. The material is being dumped at a former county landfill in Oso after being screened for hazardous materials and personal belongings.

A contractor has cleared about 1,100 feet of the highway buried by the slide, he said. So far, most of the roadway is intact. Of what they’ve uncovered, only about 160 feet of roadway were destroyed.

There’s an estimated 800 feet to go before they’ve cleared the road surface.

“We’re hoping to get traffic on 530, off the utility road, by the middle to end of June,” Vlcek said.

Until the one-lane temporary access road opened late last month, reaching Darrington from Arlington by car entailed a two-hour trip via Highway 20 in Skagit County. That added huge fuel costs for commuters and for businesses such as Hampton Lumber, Darrington’s largest employer.

Inslee’s previous visit to the area, on April 25, was to announce $300,000 in assistance for Hampton to offset the added expense of bringing timber to market.

To use the access road, drivers line up and wait in what’s been likened to a ferry line. They follow a pilot car at a constant 10 mph over the two-mile route.

The state awarded Granite Construction Co. of Everett a $3.8 million contract to operate the road around the clock. Up to seven employees work in eight-hour shifts as flaggers or pilot-car drivers, company spokeswoman Jacque Fourchy said.

The state also inked a $5 million contract with IMCO Construction of Ferndale to remove slide debris from the highway.

By the end of the month, state officials expect to award a third contract to rebuild Highway 530, transportation department spokesman Travis Phelps said. They hope to start work in June and finish in October.

The contract will cover about two miles of roadway, Phelps said. The work extends beyond areas covered or ruined by debris because of the need to elevate the road above flood levels.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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