Rain, warm temperatures continue to cause Interior road problems

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Rain and warming temperatures continue to affect roads in eastern Interior Alaska.

The conditions this week closed roads along the Copper River on both sides of the Chugach Mountains.

An unstable slope at a rock slide south of Chitina prompted state officials to close the Copper River Road Wednesday for the second time this summer, cutting off vehicle access to the popular salmon dipnetting area in Wood Canyon.

''We are closing the road immediately and asking every one in there to come out,'' said George Levasseur, district maintenance manager for the state Department of Transportation.

The road will likely remain closed to traffic for the rest of the season while the state builds a permanent fix, Levasseur said.

On June 17, a landslide consumed that section about 3.5 miles south of Chitina, stranding about 200 dipnetters before state crews plowed out a new route.

Since then, the debris has been greased by rain and keeps shifting, opening cracks in the road. On a bench uphill looms about 100,000 cubic yards of rock and dirt. More rain could release it, Levasseur said.

''We've detected movement both below the road and above the road, and we're very concerned about the stability of the slide mass,'' he said.

The swollen river washed out the Copper River Highway in four places about 40 miles from Cordova on Sunday, severing the road link to the Million Dollar Bridge and a popular recreation area facing the Childs Glacier.

At least 10 people were stuck at the end of the highway, including U.S. Forest Service recreation hosts living in a camp trailer and a state crew operating fish-counting sonar near the bridge. The recreation site gets as many as 10,000 visitors a season.

Once the water drops over the next few weeks, the state will bring in gravel and culverts to reopen the road running east of Cordova, Levasseur said.

Two landslides and a washout closed the Taylor Highway at Mile 130, about 30 miles south of Eagle. Levasseur said crews were expected to quickly reopen the highway.

High water also lapped the Richardson Highway near Mile 228, caused by culverts plugged with silt and gravel.

The road trouble comes as permafrost across the region thaws, buckling roads and snapping culverts, Levasseur said.

''You combine that with all this rainfall, and we start to have problems,'' Levasseur said.

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