SR 202 to stay closed

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Remember that whole thing about State Route 202 being reopened?

Well, disregard it.

Last week, Washington State Department of Transportation officials said a stretch of the highway that runs between Snoqualmie and Fall City will remain closed for at least another month because additional cracks were found in the road. That decision countered an earlier announcement that the road would be reopened with a 16-ton weight restriction.

The highway has been closed since the Feb. 28 Nisqually Earthquake left a 900-foot-long crack in the center of it. In addition, part of the road's shoulder separated from the highway, and a landslide threatened to cover it. On April 2, more than a month after the 6.8-magnitude temblor, WSDOT officials said the roadbed had stabilized enough to allow traffic back on SR 202.

But days later, the state agency found that existing cracks had widened, and new cracks had formed. According to WSDOT, it was the first time the road had shifted since the earthquake, and it said it would monitor SR 202 for at least another month to see whether the highway continued to move.

The new cracks were found Wednesday, April 4, as work crews patched and restriped the closed section of SR 202, and the findings were echoed in data recorded by an instrument that detects when the ground moves. A decision was then made to keep the road closed.

Linda Mullen, public information manager with WSDOT's Northwest Region, said because of the new data, the agency is adopting a wait-and-see approach to reopening the road.

"We need to do some more analysis of what [the data] means," she said, adding that more of it will be needed to get an accurate picture of what's happening to the highway.

Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said the news was unwelcome, but it could have been worse.

"While I would rather have the road closed than to have anyone injured by a slide or the road failure, I'm very upset that WSDOT had to tease us with a road opening, then close it again," he said. "The upside is it will be a month and not up to five years, which is what they told us to begin with."

Fletcher added that Snoqualmie will continue to work with WSDOT and state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, to reopen the road as soon as possible.

The highway was the subject of close scrutiny following the quake, with WSDOT organizing a team made up of geologists, engineers and other experts to analyze the existing damage and come up with a fix. In the end, the team decided to stabilize the slope on which the road sits. But WSDOT will rethink that plan as it gathers more data.

Several Valley businesses are feeling the affects of the closure. Restaurants in Fall City and Snoqualmie reported that patronage is down since the Feb. 28 earthquake. Fletcher said the reduction in clientele is affecting more than just local eateries.

"The businesses in the city are experiencing a revenue loss of some 20 percent across the board," he said. "This is devastating to a business, small or large."

The Snoqualmie Valley Cities Association has also discussed placing signs along I-90 to offset a decrease in tourism because of the road closure. Fletcher said he's open to other suggestions that could help local business owners.

"I'm looking for any ideas I can get to help the citizens and businesses in Snoqualmie," he said. "One thing we can all do is make a concentrated effort to shop locally. We might have to use I-90 to get to work, but we can shop locally."

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