Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Think your commute is dreary? Try driving through Dismal Nitch

by guest blogger Abbi Russell

Dismal Nitch is a rural area on State Route 401 in Pacific County, about a mile northeast of where the US 101 Astoria-Megler Bridge touches down in Washington. It got its unusual name from the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The expedition was traveling down the Columbia River in the winter of 1804-1805 when a terrible storm trapped them in a small, rocky cove. They spent a miserable week there, hungry, cold and soaked to the bone. In his journals, Captain William Clark referred to the place as “that dismal little nitch,” and the name stuck.

Today the area is home to a national park and one of our safety rest areas. Both are inaccessible from the south at the moment, because SR 401 is closed due to threat of landslide.

Maintenance crews out of Naselle maintain this section of SR 401. After two small slides in the area last week, crews called in investigators from our geotechnical staff in Olympia to take a closer look at the hillside above the highway.

Landslide on SR 401
Investigations determined that a large portion of the hillside was very unstable and could slide at any time. We immediately closed the highway brought in an emergency contractor in for the job. Further assessment determined that about 17,000 cubic yards of loose soil, rocks and other debris has to be removed to stabilize the slope (that's about 1,700 dump truck loads of dirt)!

Battle Ground-based contractor Tapani Underground Inc. started working Friday, Feb. 4. Crews will work daylight hours, seven days a week. Repairs could take up to a month, and the highway will remain closed until geotechnical experts determine that the slope is stable enough to allow traffic through.

In the meantime, it’s a tedious commute for those living north of the closure. They have to take a 30-mile detour on SR 4 and US 101 to get to work and shopping in Long Beach and Astoria, Ore.

We never like to inconvenience people like this, but as they say, it’s better safe than sorry. Nobody wants to get stuck under 1,700 dump-truck loads of dirt on the way home from the grocery store. That would turn a difficult drive into a truly dismal one.

View more photos as crews work to clear the unstable dirt from the area.