Monday, January 13, 2020

Spinouts, downed power lines and trees create challenging 24 hours on US 2

Updates
3:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16
US 2 will fully open at 4 p.m. across Stevens Pass! Crews spent the day clearing the final downed power lines and addressing potentially hazardous trees, followed by plowing and treating the highway. While drivers may still see utility crews in the area, the highway is fully open in time for the weekend. The highway closed on Sunday after heavy snowfall brought down power lines and trees between Gold Bar and the Stevens Pass summit, creating hazardous travel conditions. We know this has been a stressful and at times frustrating week and we extend a huge thank you to the residents of the area and the rest of the public for their patience throughout. We also offer our gratitude to all the crews who worked to keep people safe and reopen the road, including our maintenance crew, the Washington State Patrol, Snohomish PUD, Puget Sound Energy and King County and Snohomish County Emergency Management. Please be cautious as you travel through the area!

9:25 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 16
While US 2 remains closed between Skykomish and Stevens Pass, we have resumed work in that area. While conditions were too dangerous to work overnight, at daylight it was safe enough for our crews to return to the area to remove trees at risk of falling and for utilities to deal with downed power lines. Once the trees and utility lines are clear, we will use a snow blower and plows to clear the road. At this time there is still no estimate for when it will reopen. We will update this blog as soon as conditions change.

2:00 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
An additional portion of US 2 is now open for local access up to Skykomish for people living between Money Creek tunnel (milepost 46) and Skykomish. US 2 remains closed between Skykomish and the Stevens Pass summit (mile post 64) as that stretch remains unsafe for travel as there are still power lines across the roadway. As has been the case all day, high winds are in the forecast and the highway could close again depending on conditions and any associated risk to the traveling public. We will update as we get further information.

10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
Some good news for the US 2 Gold Bar/Skykomish closure. The highway is temporarily reopened to Money Creek at milepost 46. That said, high winds are in the forecast and the road could close again for safety depending on conditions. The road remains closed from Money Creek to Skykomish as that stretch remains unsafe for travel as there are still power lines in the roadway. We will update as we get further information.

3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14
Our crews were back out at US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area on Tuesday. They found several dozen more trees that fell overnight. There are more trees leaning overhead loaded with snow and there is more snow in the forecast Tuesday night into Wednesday. We are working to clear what we can during the daylight hours, and utility crews are also onsite trying to restore their lines. On Wednesday, we will be out with additional crews to continue working but there is still no estimate for reopening.
By Frances Fedoriska

A fierce weekend winter storm brought down power lines and trees and led to the overnight closure of US 2 between Gold Bar and Skykomish on Sunday, Jan. 12, leaving many travelers huddled in for the night and into Monday morning. We know this was frustrating for travelers as well as the crews working through the night trying to provide options or reopen roadways, but safety has to be the driving force behind all our decisions. And on Sunday – and today as well – the risk of downed trees and falling power lines was just too high to reopen the road.

On Monday morning, utility crews were able to access the downed power lines to begin restoration work. Once the lines are restored and the area is secure, our maintenance crews will remove any downed trees and assess the area for any additional hazards. This work can’t be safely done in the dark so it was suspended Sunday night until Monday morning, and because evaluation is ongoing as power lines are removed, the closure will remain in place through the night of Monday, Jan. 13, until further notice. We know travelers would like an estimate for reopening, but at this point conditions and needed evaluations just don’t allow us to provide one. (Those with urgent needs should contact local emergency services).
Left: Crews need to assess the potential hazards of trees on US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area before the highway is safe enough to reopen. Right: Trees leaning under the weight of heavy snow continue to be safety risks
on US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area.

So what happened?
A combination of worsening weather exacerbated both travel and road clearing plans across US 2 on Sunday.

Backups and closures started up on Stevens Pass in the afternoon around 2:30 p.m. due to collisions and spin outs and while that was being cleared, deteriorating weather increased the amount of snow on the roadway while vehicles waited to be allowed back through the area. Crews were able to start clearing backed up traffic off the pass – both to the east and west – around 5 p.m. Then, at just before 6 p.m. trees and power lines came down on US 2 near Skykomish, making conditions dangerous for both response crews and travelers. At one point a tree struck one of the work trucks – thankfully no one was injured – and at 7 p.m. it became clear that the road needed to be closed in both directions.

The closure was needed to keep crews and travelers safe, but it also meant that traffic that had headed west down off the pass was now stuck between closures with no ability to go east or west. Crews responded to begin trying to clear the debris and assess the situation, but conditions made it extremely difficult to do so accurately.

With the utility agencies, State Patrol and us, there were a lot of moving parts and teams worked to try to coordinate what was going on and what the plan was. Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of good options for travelers given the conditions.
Left: Leaning and fallen trees continue to pose safety risks for drivers and road workers on US 2 near Gold Bar and Skykomish. Right: Several trees blocked US 2, necessitating the closure
of the highway in the Skyview/Gold Bar area.

For some time, drivers at Skykomish were advised that they could head back east from Skykomish over Stevens Pass and stay in Leavenworth/Wenatchee or go around using Blewett and Snoqualmie passes. Their other option was to stay in Skykomish, but there would be no estimate on when the highway might reopen.

As Sunday night slipped into early Monday morning, conditions reached a point at Stevens Pass that sending people eastbound up and over the pass was no longer possible and word was delivered that people should find a safe location in Skykomish and wait until Monday morning when crews were able to better assess the situation, though later that very early morning some other vehicles were allowed to go eastbound. Some convoys were able to get some of those vehicles out Monday but conditions are still challenging and the closure remains in place.

Getting stranded overnight can turn a fun day at the pass into a long, difficult night. That’s why it’s so vital this time of year that people who are traveling, especially in higher elevations and mountain passes, be prepared for winter conditions, including possible closures and delays. They can come with little warning and last for an extended time. We worked with partners to keep people informed as conditions changed but we’re also always looking for ways to improve those efforts.

While our crews work to clear closures as quickly as possible, their safety and that of the public is always the main priority and we can’t reopen roads until we are confident that conditions are safe for everyone.

8 comments:

joe said...

Thanks for what you do and clearing the roads! Being one of those stuck in that in between area until 2am monday I could certainly see that the travelers were also part of the problem as they jammed up the entire area east of skykomish and now that you've posted this I understand what happened a little better. We were getting conflicting information at the pass and so headed west with the intention of getting through or staying in skykomish. We ended up stuck in line... until the line was cleared from the back to us at 2am. The hwy patrol at that point said we couldn't stay in skykomish for some reason I couldn't figure out, we just wanted to sleep somewhere, he said we had to go up to the pass or over it to leavenworth to park? Still don't understand that. We drove around in the middle of the night which worked out as there wasn't much traffic. Dynamic situation for sure. Areas of improvement:
-Not everyone has facebook and current status was being posted on that before wsdot.com so please post the most current information there, wsdot.com. I'd rather have just one source of information in that kind of situation. or at least say the current information is on facebook somewhere on wsdot and provide a public link. I ended up getting linked to it from a friend in seattle.

Tom in Winthrop said...

My wife has been stuck on the west side for a couple of days now. I drove from Winthrop to Wenatchee on Sunday expecting to meet the Amtrak train. That train was cancelled with no explanation to the ticket holders. One of the great frustrations in these situations is the inability to contact humans on a phone line for up to date information as to what is going on. All this to say thank you for your outreach efforts on this blog and the up to the minute postings on the WSDOT website. Here's hoping you are not replaced by a call center in Mumbai.

Charles Gust said...

Not sure it impacted your train, but while we were being piloted from Skykomish to Gold Bar on Monday morning, I did see crews clearing a tree from the BNSF tracks. Your point about getting information before making a risky long winter drive remains valid.

Charles Gust said...

We were in a motor coach that needed to reach Skykomish to have a chance of turning around but we couldn’t get to Skykomish until around midnight because of the cars that didn’t yet realize the futility of going west.

GBH said...

Thanks for all of your hard work - as you explain with detail - safety for everyone must come first!
Jenny Lutz

Unknown said...

We made it home safely traveling the pass. And, my mobile service must have stopped in Monroe. But, we saw the concern with all the snow that was dumping. Lots of traffic and too many rushing..remember, we all are heading somewhere, so, take it slow and steady or dont go. Thank You to the Crew for helping with power, clearing the roads and the guy who let me use his phone!!!

Unknown said...

How about all those trees be cut back 100’ of each side of the road. That way the highway will get more sun and when a tree.does fall it’s not falling on the highway.

Robert C said...

Is the highway open as far as Timberlane Village for residents there to get to their houses?

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