With the upcoming Washington Department of Transportation rockfall removal project, there is going to be a major change impacting White Salmon.
Soon, virtually every vehicle that currently travels east-west on State Route 14 may be coming through the city's downtown business district. Why? Because SR 14 will be closed in both directions for long periods during the work, which will include removal of "loose rock, unstable soil, trees, and other debris from slopes above SR 14." The closures are necessary for public safety, because there will be blasting and rock scaling going on.
There are two main sites where the slope stabilization project will take place: at Milepost 53, near Dog Mountain in Skamania County; and at Milepost 65, which is west of the Hood River Toll Bridge and Dock Grade Road.
During a series of work windows, SR 14 will be completely closed -- no one-lane stuff with flaggers on this baby -- and traffic will be detoured around the work sites. Those closure windows are planned to be for two hours at a time.
According to a printed WDOT schedule, these closures will continue most of the year: From March 1 until Sept. 2.
Talk about a headache: At the height of the project, the highway is planned to be closed for regular two-hour durations between 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week. It will work like this: The highway will be shut down for two hours, then open for one hour; closed for two hours, then open for one hour -- on and on like that all day. After 6 p.m., SR 14 will open to one lane of traffic only. The open lane will be controlled by a temporary signal light on an automatic timer.
One of the primary detour routes will bring traffic up Alternate 141 and loop it through White Salmon, then down the hill into Bingen and back onto SR 14 from there. Westbound traffic can cross on the Hood River Toll Bridge and take I-84, but eastbound SR 14 traffic will be coming through downtown White Salmon.
The SR 14 closures are expected to end in early September, but unstable slopes are, by definition, not so easy to control. That's why they are being worked on in the first place, after all.
We remember a similar project along SR 14 in Skamania County a few years back. Once crews began removing rock, more rock became unstable, and the project had to be extended significantly beyond the original timeline to deal with the situation. That could happen on these projects as well.
The work is certainly not frivolous. It will reduce the hazards of rocks and other dangerous debris falling onto the highway in the areas targeted, and that's a good thing. But the closures are likely to be a real pain for area motorists and recreationalists, as well as for businesses like SDS Lumber Co. that rely on truck traffic coming and going. And once the detour parade gets started, it's probably going to create a congested mess at times for the downtown core of White Salmon.
We'll have to live with it, but here's hoping the project does not stretch any longer than anticipated.