Progress made on opening access road

DARRINGTON — Like a lot of folks around Darrington these days, Tom James is eager for an access road that will bypass a stretch of Highway 530 damaged by the deadly March 22 mudslide.

James, 70, is retired and has suffered a series of strokes.

His wife of 46 years works for the Boeing Co. in Everett and has been spending several nights a week with family west of the slide.

“I miss her,” James said. “I would like to see the road back open as much as everyone else.”

Beyond the fear of isolation during medical emergencies and challenge of long, arduous commutes, in Darrington there is a sense of anxiety that the missing link of highway will cost mill jobs that are the backbone of the town’s economy,

Some level of relief should be coming. The state Department of Transportation soon hopes to open the access road, a one-lane, two-mile route along the southern lip of the debris fields. The road won’t be a substitute highway. Travel there will be reserved for commuters to and from Darrington.

Transportation officials say they have secured the right-of-way agreements they need. They are now waiting for emergency response workers to hand over the reins to the road. Details of the agreements with property owners were not released Friday.

Although they don’t have a specific date for the handoff, “it will be sooner rather than later,” said Travis Phelps, a state Department of Transportation spokesman.

The state earlier this week awarded a contract to Granite Construction Co. of Everett to operate and maintain the roadway. The $3.4 million contract calls for the road to be open around the clock, seven days a week, for limited access.

Those drivers allowed on the route should expect delays. Traffic will restricted to one direction at a time with pilot cars guiding drivers each way. The speed limit will be 10 mph. Once drivers are on the road, they will not be allowed to stop or pull over for the 20 minute drive.

“Safety is going to be the number one priority,” Phelps said.

State transportation officials have scheduled a series of meetings for next week to discuss what’s next for Highway 530 as well as the access road.

The state has begun to advertise for a contractor to remove the remainder of material along the blocked stretch of Highway 530 once the search efforts are complete. County leaders are set to speak Monday about bringing a close to the active search effort.

There’s still an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of debris on the roadway, which could take up to three months to clear.

State officials hope to have one lane of Highway 530 open for local traffic by the fall, Phelps said. However, the roadway underneath the slide could be significantly damaged and it’s too soon to tell if it will be safe enough to drive once the debris has been cleared.

Transportation officials also say it is too early to know when a more permanent fix for the highway will happen. Engineers know that the Stillaguamish River has carved a new path and the geography of the valley has changed dramatically. They say they’ll need more information before they can develop road designs and a proposed route. Once those decisions are made they can develop cost estimates and project timelines.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

Highway 530

A series of meetings to discuss what’s next for a stretch of Highway 530 blocked by the March 22 mudslide is set for next week. Here’s the schedule:

*Darrington — 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Darrington Community Center, 570 Sauk Ave.

*Arlington — 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Stillaguamish Senior Center, 18308 Smokey Point Blvd.

*Oso — 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Oso Community Chapel, 22318 Highway 530.

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