The following is a message from Pierce County Alert:
SR 7 Closed, Both Directions –
State Route 7, known locally as Mountain Highway, is closed in both directions in the LaGrande area due to a slide. Southbound traffic is being diverted at SR 161, to LaGrande Cutoff Road, or (MP 27.0). Northbound traffic is being diverted at Alder Cutoff Road, or (MP 21.6). Detours in effect until further notice. For updates visit http://www.wsdot.com/traffic/trafficalerts/default.aspx
Addendum: 12:10 pm
The Mountain News has phone calls into Senator Randi Becker (R-Eatonville, 2nd LD) and the Washington State Department of Transportation asking for more details. The Mountain News also spoke with State Representative JT Wilcox (R-Yelm, 2nd LD) early this afternoon, but JT had no further information to share. He did promise to call his contacts in the DOT and keep us posted.
Update: 12:46 pm
Kelly Stowe, an official in the WS DOT media relations department, just announced that the road closure is a “precautionary measure” due to some rocks that tumbled unto the roadway on Thursday, June 7.
“It’s not exactly a slide,” she told the Mountain News. She added that state DOT engineers are currently conducting core drillings into the adjacent hillside to further assess the situation.
As a result, Stowe indicated that the road will stay closed pending their findings, and she said the DOT was unable to estimate when the highway would reopen.
Hence, at present SR 7 remains closed in both directions. Southbound traffic on Mountain Highway is advised to detour off the highway at the Eatonville Cut-Off Road near the junction of SR 702.
Northbound traffic will continue to be re-routed at the Alder Cut-Off Rd, which is just south of the popular Sunny Beach Point picnic and swimming area on Alder Lake.
Update: 5:23 pm
Kevin Dayton from the Washington State DOT just called after receiving a request from Senator Randi Becker to contact the Mountain News. Mr. Dayton offered a fuller picture of what is occurring on Mountain Highway.
Dayton said the area of the slide is adjacent to the Pack Forest, and above the highway there is terrain, trees and soils that are known to be unstable.
“It’s been a site we’ve been looking at for some time,” Dayton said.
As a result, the hillside has been assigned to the DOT’s “Unstable Slope Program” and within that designation it received some attention a couple of months ago.
“It’s been active for some time, and two months ago we took a closer look,” Dayton said.
Part of the state’s action was bring in a large excavator – with a 100-foot reach – to “unload the top,” meaning the machine scooped off material from the top of the immediate hillside. In addition, a barrier along the roadway was installed to capture the mud, trees and rocks that might wash down the hillside.
“The area behind the barriers is about half-full, now,” Dayton said, adding that some rocks and pebbles had spilled out into the roadway of SR 7.
Further, Dayton said that geo-technical engineers examined the hillside on Thursday and saw that some of the remaining trees on the top of the hill had begun to lean away from the slope, indicating that the ground might have begun to shift.
Dayton said that recent rains might have contributed to the movement of soils in the upper reaches of the hillside, which might become dangerous.
“Soils gain weight with rain and they lose some of their cohesiveness,” he said.
As a result, at 9 pm on Thursday evening the geotechnical staff recommended that SR 7 be closed.
Dayton said that the drainage ditches and roadways of Pack Forest directly above SR 7 will be closely examined in the next couple of days along with the slope itself, to determine what kinds of activity are occurring in the area, and to offer recommendations for remediation.
“We should know in the next couple of days,” said Dayton. “In the meantime the highway will stayed closed as a safety precaution – probably through the remainder of the weekend.”