Heavy rain pelts the Plateau

A line of perhaps two dozen cars and trucks sat motionless Friday morning, idled about seven miles east of Enumclaw as work crews cleared mud, rocks and large trees from state Route 410.

  • Sunday, November 23, 2008 10:26pm
  • News

Department of Transportation crews worked feverishly to get state Route 410 east of Enumclaw open again after a slide closed the road.

A line of perhaps two dozen cars and trucks sat motionless Friday morning, idled about seven miles east of Enumclaw as work crews cleared mud, rocks and large trees from state Route 410.

A short distance ahead, the busy highway could not be seen, covered by inches of mud and water, the final reminder of an Nov. 12 landslide that blocked traffic flowing between Enumclaw and Greenwater.

The slide was just one local result of heavy rains that drowned the entire Puget Sound region the middle of last week.

High water reached Wilkeson homes along Gale Creek, motorists had to find alternate routes around South Prairie where a raging South Prairie Creek spilled over its banks and the sheets of rain caused the ground to give way in the Green River Gorge, prompting closure of the Kummer Bridge. In addition, heavy rainfall did damage throughout Mount Rainier National Park.

Creating trouble for private motorists, commercial drivers and school buses was the closure of the Kummer Bridge at 3:19 p.m. Nov. 12. Geotechnical experts with the state’s Department of Transportation detected small movements in the soil supporting the bridge, prompting the closure.

A WSDOT press release noted that the bridge had not moved, but newly-installed “tilt meters” showed that soil beneath the bridge footings was slipping.

“We realize this in an inconvenience to drivers, but we want to err on the side of safety,” said Regional Administrator Lorena Eng.

The bridge was opened for traffic in both directions at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The bridge was closed a couple of times in recent months due to slides and the DOT has had crews in the area working on a slope-stabilization project.

East of Enumclaw, a mountainside gave way about 5:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and covered both lanes of state Route 410. The slide measured about 300 feet long and, in places, was as tall as the heavy equipment used to get rid of the debris.

To get people to their homes, alternate routes (Forest Service roads) were called into service. On other occasions, one lane was cleared to allow drivers to pass through in 30-minute intervals. Finally, both lanes were reopened to traffic at 6 p.m. Friday.

Further up the mountain, WSDOT crews closed state Route 123 between SR 410 and SR12 due to multiple washouts. There is no estimate as to when the road will be reopened.

In the national park, things weren’t nearly as bad as in 2006, but several areas were hit hard.

“Overall it could have been a lot worse,” Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said, expressing a belief that repairs will be made quickly.

The worst damage was around the Nisqually entrance, especially in the Kautz Creek area, where the creek was flowing 8 inches deep over the roadway.

Locally, the Carbon River Road washed out at Milepost 6. The DOT noted that approximately 200 feet of both lanes is completely gone. Due to the rain and associated damage, trail conditions and river crossings in the area were deemed “extremely hazardous” and hiking in the area was discouraged.

• Enumclaw School District transportation director Everett Cunningham said the district was lucky when the storm started Nov. 12 – most of the buses were back in the barn when state Route 169’s Kummer Bridge was closed and a slide closed state Route 410 outside of Greenwater.

With the Kummer Bridge still closed Friday, Enumclaw school buses were rerouting down Whitney Hill and up past Flaming Geyser State Park to get students back and forth from Black Diamond.

The district also picks up and drops off about 25 middle and high school students and 20 elementary students in Greenwater and Crystal Mountain. Since the road was closed, those students didn’t have to go to school Thursday, but by Friday morning crews had opened travel to one-lane and Enumclaw buses were among those in line.

Reach Kevin Hanson at khanson@courierherald.com or 360-802-8205.

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