State decides to open SR 202

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Washington State Department of Transportation officials said Monday they plan on reopening State Route 202 as early as the end of this week, giving Valley commuters a reason to rejoice after a month of traffic backups, detours and other aggravations.

The road was closed between Fall City and Snoqualmie after the Feb. 28 Nisqually Earthquake created a crack 900 feet long and 3 to 5 inches wide in the pavement. Part of the eastbound shoulder separated from the road, and a landslide threatened to encroach on the highway. Commuters and businesses alike were affected by the closure because the detour on Interstate 90 added several minutes onto the Valley commute.

Plans are to open the road in both directions, with a 16-ton weight restriction on vehicles.

"What happened was the structural integrity of the road is back to what it was before the earthquake," said Melanie Moores, WSDOT spokeswoman. "We've had monitoring devices out there for a month, and they indicate that the hillside is stabile enough to have traffic on the roadway. We've sealed the cracks and we're seeing no more movement."

Moores explained that the department wants to reopen the road by the end of the week, but poor weather conditions could delay that action.

Since the earthquake, an engineering team assembled by WSDOT has been monitoring SR 202 and recently completed a repair plan. The team's goal was to look at existing conditions and constraints and present their findings, explained Philip Fordyce, East King County area administrator for WSDOT. He said the team was made up of engineers, geologists and other experts.

"They were given a goal to analyze the best cost-effective solution for a problem," Fordyce said. "It's a really good way to come up with a sound engineering judgment, and it gives us a good handle to start programming, budgeting and scoping the project."

There are two major problems with the road. Part of the hillside has already slid into Tokul Creek, and the entire hill is sensitive to rain. The second problem are the cracks, which wander all the way up to the Salish Lodge and Spa. But they've since been repaired.

Originally, estimates were as high as $40 million to repair the road, which would have involved cutting a new highway on the other side of the Falls Hill, and taken two to five years to complete. However, the engineering team said the road damage is not as devastating as what was first predicted.

Instead of a new road, the engineering team chose to stabilize the slope at an approximate cost of $4 million. The team's proposal is currently under analysis, and it will have to go through the state's environmental permitting process before it is approved. If approved, construction will begin in summer 2002.

"We are going to do a permanent fix - essentially stabilize the slope form the bottom up - which involves a sheet-pile wall to contain sediment and to shore up work area," Moores said. "And at the bottom, what we call the toe of slope, we will install a buttress, or stabilization material." Rocks will be used to further stabilize and weigh down the hillside, and workers will install horizontal drains to remove water that could compromise the soil.

After the road is reopened, WSDOT officials will continue monitoring the roadway, and the State Patrol will check for weight-restriction offenders.

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