Regional government officials have allocated about $1.6 million to help pay for a long-term solution to a sliding hillside that kept State Route 7 closed in the Alder area last summer.
The money is part of more than $7.9 billion worth of transportation projects that will move forward in the central Puget Sound region, following approval by the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Executive Board of the 2013-2016 Regional Transportation Improvement Program.
The projects in Pierce, King, Kitsap and Snohomish counties are funded with federal, state and local funds, including recent federal grants awarded through the council.
A state Department of Transportation (DOT) spokeswoman said funding approved for the SR-7 project is part of an overall financial package that officials are trying to arrange to improve safety on the stretch of highway affected by an unstable hillside.
More than $1.2 million in the funding approved Oct. 25 by the Regional Council is for removing loose rock from the slope. Another $444,000 is earmarked for work on stabilizing a slope about one mile north of Pilgrim Road East and reducing the likelihood of highway closures caused by falling debris, officials said.
The troublesome portion of SR-7 reopened in October after being closed since June 7 between Alder Cutoff Road and the State Route 161 junction. It isn’t back to normal, however. It has a reduced speed limit of 20 miles per hour and narrower lanes – each nine feet wide – in each direction. Due to the narrower widths, DOT is advising heavy trucks to continue using detour routes on SR-161 and Alder Cutoff that were pressed into service throughout the summer.
DOT will continue monitoring the hillside. And to help protect passing motorists from falling rock, large, weighted shipping containers were placed along the highway between the hillside and a jersey barrier. If the risk of more slides becomes too high, DOT will close the highway again, according to Kevin Dayton, region administrator for the agency.
Geotechnical engineers have studied the situation since slides closed the highway initially in April. DOT planned to make permanent repairs to the slope, but bids last summer from contractors for the job were higher than the state-estimated cost. Officials settled on the temporary fix.
The longer-term project will be readvertised next spring in the hope of attracting affordable bids, officials said.
DOT wants to install a soil nail wall – virtually a blanket material that will be fixed permanently with soil nails. Officials said the technique is common in many places in Washington, but will be used for the first time at the SR-7 trouble spot between Alder and LaGrande.
According to DOT, the stretch of highway that was shut down averages 1,600 motorists per day when open. It’s one of the main routes to and from Mount Rainier National Park.
“Securing federal transportation funding for communities in the region is one of the key roles of the Puget Sound Regional Council,” said Josh Brown, the council’s president. “These projects are advancing a better system that gets people and goods where they need to go, provides transportation choices, and helps grow jobs in the region.”
The Transportation Improvement Program is required under federal and state laws. Officials said it helps make certain that projects meet regional policies and federal and state requirements.
The council represents 80 government entities, including counties, cities and towns, ports, the state and local transportation agencies and tribal governments within the region.