Highway 101 slide fix will come with hefty price tag, official says

A permanent fix for the roughly quarter-mile of roadway swept away by the Hooskanaden slide north of Brookings could cost $40 million or more — an amount that they say is not yet accounted for in ODOT's budget.

Posted: Mar. 22, 2019 3:56 PM
Updated: Mar. 22, 2019 4:27 PM

BROOKINGS, Ore. — A temporary solution to the massive Hooskanaden slide has been up and running for more than a week now, with expansion into a two-lane road on the horizon. But local leaders are concerned about a more permanent solution — one that could cost a considerable amount of money.

“We need a plan and funding for a more sustainable highway at the Hooskanaden slide,” said Brookings City Manager Janell Howard on Wednesday.

During a series of rainstorms at the end of February, roughly a quarter-mile of Highway 101 buckled and was gradually swept downward as an entire sodden hillside shifted — causing a total closure that lasted for nearly two weeks and saw the city of Brookings hit with fuel and grocery shortages as commercial traffic struggled to make the journey.

Workers with Tidewater Contractors alongside the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) re-opened the area to a single lane of traffic on March 9, with plans to add a second lane by early April.

But a "permanent" fix — something more than paved gravel, something that can stand the test of time in an area prone to major slides — will likely prove to be a pricey prospect.

“We have been advised by regional ODOT staff that a rough cost estimate for a semi-permanent fix would be in the $40 million range, and that it is not a part of any current budget request," said Gary Milliman, a retired Brookings City Manager and current chair of the local transportation commission.

Milliman is asking his commission to lobby the Oregon Transportation Commission for help from local, state and federal agencies to help address — and fund — the slide fix.

“The highway outage caused by this slide was more than just an inconvenience,” said Brookings Mayor Jake Pieper. “It had real public safety and economic impacts on the Curry County community.“

Now the City of Brookings is asking for locals to write letters of support that will be passed on to state authorities, adding weight to requests for aid.

“We need information specific to the individual experience of people and businesses adversely impacted by the highway closure,” Howard said.

According to a statement from the City, officials have heard reports of ambulance traffic being sent away to Crescent City in California during the closure, on top of the ubiquitous fuel shortages. And, Brookings officials said, neighboring Del Norte County has received support from local, state and federal officials to address a similar problem on 101 at “Last Chance Grade,” south of Crescent City.

"It’s a long timeline, with construction not expected to begin until at least 2031,” Milliman said. “But at least they have a plan, and they have commitments from all levels of government to support the plan. We need to do the same for 'Hooskanaden Slide.'"

However, ODOT has said in previous statements that it is already working on a new design for a more permanent fix, with construction efforts slated to begin as early as late summer of 2019. Starting the work any earlier, with the Hooskanaden slide area continuing to shift slightly in wet spring conditions, is not a likely to be a realistic proposition.

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