Monday, February 10, 2020

SR 706 road to Paradise a muddy, debris-covered mess after heavy rains


8:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24
We have good news about the work on State Route 706.

Both lanes of State Route 706 east of Ashford have reopened to all travelers this morning.

Favorable weather allowed our emergency contractor, Granite Construction, to repair and reopen the highway well in advance of the original mid-March estimate. Crews will finish paving and striping as weather allows. Until crews can complete the work, you can expect daytime one-way alternating traffic.

Throughout the closure, several agencies worked together to maintain access for people who live in the slide area. WSDOT worked closely with Pierce County Emergency Management, Eatonville School District, the U.S. Forest Service and Mount Rainier National Park in coordinating caravans for residents in and out of the slide area.

Thank you again for your patience during this work.

10:15 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21
Emergency contractor crews continue work 7-days a week on State Route 706. While the highway remains closed to most travelers until further notice at the Kernahan Road (milepost 10.18), this stretch of good weather has certainly helped bolster recovery efforts. Crews so far have removed hundreds of dump truck loads of mud, dirt and rocks. A major part of the work included installation of a new culvert to carry water under the highway.
Crews in this photo are building the new channel to divert the water away from the highway.

4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18
Since arriving at the scene on Thursday, Feb. 13, the emergency contractor has made substantial progress at the slide site. Over the past six days, over 2,250 cubic yards of slide debris has been removed. The contractor is building new ditches next to the highway so that stream runoff from the hillside above has a place to go - instead of over the highway.

Moving forward, this week’s work includes continued debris removal, embankment construction and utility relocation. Once those items are taken care of, the next big item on the list is getting the culvert installed. Once installed, crews will be able to make pavement repairs and install highway markers. This work is weather sensitive and could get delayed.

SR 706 remains closed at milepost 10.18, blocking access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance. There is no detour available. We strongly encourages travelers to not venture beyond the closure location, which is an active work zone.

We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic by mid-March. Weather conditions may alter this timeline. We will provide updates as they become available.

12:40 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14
On Thursday, Feb. 13, Granite Construction crews began bringing in large equipment to clear the slide debris covering SR 706 east of Ashford.

Today, crews began separating the rock from the wood debris, so the rock can be incorporated into the project. Crews are also hauling debris out of the work zone. The contractor estimates that it will take approximately one week to remove the slide debris, inspect for damage and identify repairs. The contractor will be working seven days a week during daylight hours.

We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic by mid-March. Due to the conditions of the slide and weather conditions, the timeline may change. We will provide updates as they become available.

The closure at milepost 10.18, which blocks access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance, will remain in place. There is no detour available. We strongly encourages travelers to not venture beyond the closure location, which is now an active work zone.

4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Today, our crews worked with Pierce County Emergency Management to coordinate a single escorted convoy for residents on State Route 706. As our emergency contractor mobilizes tomorrow, we will continue to evaluate damage and how we can safely reopen the road beyond emergency and escorted access.

9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Our crews have cleared a path through the slides on SR 706 for emergency vehicle access only.  After we fully evaluate the extent of the damage and debris, we can develop a timeline for reopening one lane beyond emergency access. We’ll continue to provide updates here on the blog.

4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11
Today, our maintenance crews began moving debris and repairing several sections of SR 706 approaching the slide area at milepost 11.4. Under guidance from engineering geologists, crews are addressing safety issues concerning trees near power lines in the slide area near milepost 11. Crews are also preparing to move in larger equipment to the work area.

We also received the authorization today to initiate an emergency contract to begin repairs on SR 706 in the extensive slide area.

With rain or snow in the forecast, it is possible that the slide activity will again increase, which can cause unforeseen delays.  As crews clear away the debris, the creek and stream water coming down from the hillside has to be closely monitored.

After crews start to work on the slides and evaluate the extent of the damage and debris, we can develop a timeline for roadwork going forward and will continue to provide updates.
WSDOT crews began moving debris off SR 706 near milepost 11.

1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11
While visiting the site on Monday, Feb. 10, geotechnical engineers began outlining a plan for us to begin safely clearing the road to allow emergency access for local residents only who live and work near Mount Rainier National Park.

There are two known slide sites that our engineers are focused on. Both locations have unique characteristics that crews will be addressing. Crews will begin their work at the slide located near milepost 11. The work at milepost 11 will initially involve safely diverting the water and debris away from SR 706 and begin removing the debris from the highway. We will continue to provide updates once crews are able to safely mobilize and begin the temporary repairs.

5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10
SR 410 has reopened in both directions.

By Doug Adamson

Many travelers who visit Mount Rainier National Park often refer to State Route 706 east of Ashford as "the road to Paradise." But after several days of torrential rain, the road to Paradise now resembles a muddy creek bed complete with large boulders, six-foot deep debris and several streams in areas where they shouldn't be. In short, the roadway is a mess and the hillside above is extremely unstable. That means the road, which first closed due to slides at 4 a.m. on Feb. 6, will remain closed with no timeframe for reopening.

While we know keeping the highway closed is frustrating to residents and backcountry adventurers seeking the tranquility of one of our state's most notable landmarks, until water from the displaced streams is redirected, we can't reopen the highway.
What's the problem?
On most slides, once our geotechnical engineers give us the all-clear, contractors or maintenance teams break out the heavy equipment to scoop off debris. Once the debris is clear, we sometimes need to reduce the roadway to one lane of alternating travel to ensure safety while we complete repair work, depending on the conditions of the site.

However, this slide is much different and much more dangerous.

Following early-February's driving rain, the area around a U.S. Forest Service road above SR 706 collapsed in at least two locations. Early on Thursday, Feb. 6, the slide was reported to our crews as debris and water began to cover the highway. SR 706 now resembles a creek bed, complete with a new creek and other running water in at least two locations. Additional slides have been reported along a 4-mile section that our crews have not yet been able to reach.
Left: an overhead look at the origin of the slide above SR 706. Right: The second slide on SR 706 further east cutting through Forest Service Road #59 with an unidentified source of water runoff.

If we simply cleared the debris – which is up to six-feet deep in places – running water, which is still eating away at the hillside above the highway, could still cause the highway to collapse. According to geotechnical engineers, the crews that inspect hillsides all across our state, this creates an extremely hazardous situation for anyone in the area, as running water could trigger additional mudslides or landslides.

The bottom line: crews need to have the spigot turned off before we can begin to clear the roadway, and that's really in Mother Nature's hands. While the dry weather of the past couple days has helped a little, she doesn't seem eager to let off the accelerator. Inspections of the highway and any repairs will then need to occur before we can reopen SR 706. Right now, we have no timeline for when the water and debris will stop flowing.

We're going to do everything we can to safely clear the roadway for the people who rely on it every day.
Left: An abundance of debris blocks the highway at milepost 11.6 in Pierce County with no estimated time of reopening. Right: Our Assistant Regional Administrator of Maintenance and Construction, Troy Cowan observing the debris and devastation across SR 706. Much work remains for our crews.

Stay out, your life could be in jeopardy
We cannot overstate the importance of staying out of this area. Do not go beyond our road closure location due to the imminent threat to life and safety. The hillside is unstable and running water only compounds the problem. People who venture into the area potentially endanger themselves and the lives of rescuers who go to the area.

We will update this blog with any new information in terms of progress of reopening SR 706.

Nearby slides on SR 410
SR 706 isn't the only road affected by the heavy rain this month. Our crews along with other agencies have been responding to or monitoring more than 20 slides around the state. While many have reopened, several remain closed, including on SR 410. During the course of three days, four landslides fell onto SR 410, resulting in a closure between Mud Mountain Road and Greenwater. These slides took down trees and power lines. On Sunday, crews were able to restore power and clear three landslides to open up SR 410 to milepost 48 for local traffic only. However, debris from the farthest landslide remains, keeping SR 410 closed to all traffic between these two points. Crews continue to work on this last closure. Until all debris is cleared, SR 410 cannot be opened to all.

People can stay updated to any road closures by checking our travel alerts page and by downloading our app.


Unknown said...

On forest fo. 59 above the bridge going up there used to be some kind of big cement thing on the left on the hillside about 1/2 block past bridge and creek and it always had water running from it

Unknown said...

Suggestion for DOT: Don't show employees standing around doing nothing.

Unknown said...

I live up there what about the tree in the slides that are down with there wait and in the future it's going to create a dam effect and cause it to back up and potentially create a nother land slide

WSDOT said...

In the interim, we’re working to create an earthen berm on the hillside to help divert debris away from the highway. We’re in the process of developing our long-term plans to help prevent future problems.

GBH said...

Thanks for all of your hard work in the area! Thank you for explaining the details of why the area is so unstable.

Unknown said...

Any update since Wednesday (02/12/2020) on the status of the road? Any chance that the Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park will be open for Monday (Presidents Day)? All the information from WSDOT on the status of the road has been really great! Thank you!

WSDOT said...

We appreciate your feedback. Thank you!

State Route 7o6 leading to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance remains closed to all travelers except emergency traffic. It is an active construction zone until further notice.

While there is no certain timeline for fully reopening, the highway most certainly will not be open for the holiday weekend.

Make sure to get updates directly as well from Mount Rainer National Park.

Lilith P said...

Thank you for the updates. Can I get some clarification on the mid-March timeline for two-way access? Does that mean that until 2 way access is fully restored the road will be closed to travelers, or is there some hope that there may be one lane open before then? I ask knowing that this is all projected, but I own a vacation rental property in the area that I can't access, and as a business owner need to offer my guests some clarification to allow them to make other plans instead of stringing them along hoping for the best.... If it is going to be completely closed to all travelers, this is something that would be extremely helpful to know. Also, will I as an owner be allowed access to check on my property before the projected 2-way access is restored, even though I am not a permanent resident? Thanks for your help.

Unknown said...

They said mid March at the earliest in the article. That is if mother nature cooperates. It is a huge undertaking cleaning up 2 massive slides

WSDOT said...

SR 706 remains closed to all traffic at Kernahan Drive (milepost 10.18, which blocks access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance). There is no detour in place. Our emergency contractor is providing scheduled pilot car access for people who live and work in the area only. This area remains is closed to the general public because it is now an active construction zone.  We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic (one lane in each direction) by mid-March, however as conditions of the slide and weather change, the timeline may fluctuate as well. Travelers are encouraged to sign up for email alerts. If you have additional questions, you may contact us at

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