County public works and WSDOT win award for post-mudslide road rebuild

OSO — The agencies that hurried to rebuild Highway 530 after the deadly mudslide here, which isolated Darrington from the rest of Snohomish County, are receiving national recognition for their work.

The American Public Works Association awarded its first President’s Special Recognition Award to Snohomish County Public Works and the state Department of Transportation for the highway rebuild.

The mudslide in March 2014 killed 43 people and buried the highway. The county and state coordinated eight contractors and hundreds of workers to get the key connection restored in six months.

They also worked around professional and volunteer crews that searched the mud until every victim was found. Balancing the technical necessities of building a road and the emotional toll of the disaster was deemed essential.

“The balance was pretty clear to us,” said Travis Phelps, a spokesman with the Department of Transportation. “We knew that this wasn’t your normal project and we had to approach it in a very different way … With a disaster of this magnitude, you kind of take off your department hat and put on your team hat.”

The state and county departments pushed to get the highway reopened as soon as possible while respecting the area as sacred ground for families who lost loved ones in the slide. Crews were “honored and humbled” to work so closely with the community, Phelps said.

The route between Arlington and Darrington reopened in stages. First there was a bumpy power-line access road that became a makeshift detour while the highway was cleared, followed by alternating one-way traffic while crews worked on the highway. It opened to two-way traffic with a 25 mph speed limit in June and was back to full speed — 50 mph — in late September.

Crews built a new, elevated road through the slide zone, in places 20 feet higher than the previous highway, to prepare for flooding. They added culverts to manage water runoff, reinforced slopes along the road and coordinated the planting of 43 trees as a memorial to those who died in the slide.

“People showed up offering help and at times there were more than 1,000 on site from various agencies across the state,” said Steve Thomsen, the county’s public works director, in a news release. “We were all drawn to a common goal — to help those in need.”

The American Public Works Association represents a mix of public and private organizations from around the country. Headquartered in Missouri, it has 67 chapters in North America, including one in Washington.

The state chapter of APWA gave the Highway 530 rebuild its 2015 Project of the Year award for the Disaster/Emergency Construction Repair category.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, kbray@heraldnet.com.

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