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Rowena Loops slide being cleared

Road to reopen for Memorial Day

Peter Murphy, above, left, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, answers questions at an on-scene press briefing Monday morning as heavy equipment operators were removing rock, above, that fell onto Highway 30 in the Rowena Loops area May 7.

Peter Murphy, above, left, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, answers questions at an on-scene press briefing Monday morning as heavy equipment operators were removing rock, above, that fell onto Highway 30 in the Rowena Loops area May 7. Photo by Jesse Burkhardt.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is hard at work removing the recent rockslide that occurred just east of the Rowena Crest Overlook between Mosier and Rowena.

The slide occurred at around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 7, and it was a big one. ODOT officials estimated that between 500 and 600 cubic yards of rock and debris came down, covering both lanes of Highway 30’s “Rowena Loops” area, about a mile east of the overlook. About 150 feet of the roadway was covered by rocks, some of which were massive.

“It’s the biggest slide of the season for sure,” said ODOT’s Don Hamilton, a public information officer based in Portland.

“Road closed” barricades remain in place across Highway 30 just past the entrance to the viewpoint on the west and at Rowena Ferry Road on the east.

On Monday, representatives from ODOT said they expected the rockfall to be cleared and Highway 30 to be reopened before Memorial Day.

“The target is Memorial Day, if not before,” said Peter Murphy, ODOT’s spokesman for Region 4 in Bend, a district that includes all of Wasco County. “We’ll do our best to get it open before then if we can. It’s a busy highway and this is a busy time of year with motorists and bicyclists. The important thing is that we understand what happened, and make it safe.”

Jamie Schick, ODOT’s statewide rock slope geologist, said the clearing and repair work has been going well.

“We’re on schedule to remove it and make it safe for the public by the holiday weekend,” he said, but added there were no guarantees the road would actually open by then. He pointed out that the rock fell from a 140-foot high slope.

“There is inherent risk to this work,” Schick said. “Rocks coming off the slope are unpredictable, so we have to work from the top down. We removed the loose material and are evaluating for the long-term. Eventually, we’ll put big rock bolts there to help secure the rock.”

Because of the potential risk, crews clearing the rock are not working past dusk and are on the job only as conditions permit.

“They’ll get in there when it’s light and conditions are right,” Murphy said.

“It’s all weather-permitting. If it’s windy and nasty, they can’t work.”

A fleet of dump trucks were coming down the Rowena Loops roadway one by one on Monday, headed to the location of the slide. When they got there, a heavy equipment operator loaded the trucks with rock, which was then hauled away.

“Each truck can carry 10 yards of material, so approximately 50 to 60 truckloads will be needed to clear the slide,” Murphy said.

Murphy explained that the rock is being hauled to an ODOT storage site, where it will be used in future road projects.

“It’s high quality rock. We’ll use it on a highway project down the road,” he said. “You’ll be driving on it later.”

Once the rock is cleared away, ODOT officials will inspect the road more thoroughly. At the least, experts anticipate that an asphalt overlay will be needed to repair the surface of the road where the rocks came down. Also, a wooden guardrail was damaged by the slide and will need to be replaced.

The overall price tag on the cleanup project has been pegged at approximately $200,000, but ODOT officials cautioned that costs could increase depending on what crews find — and whether any more rock falls at the site.

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