By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

Highway reopens for limited hours, restricted use

 

November 29, 2023



Workers were able to clear out mud, trees and debris from the landslide zone to allow state and borough officials to reopen Zimovia Highway Tuesday morning for limited use.

Initially, the two-lane road will be open for restricted hours: 8 to 8:30 a.m., 12 to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 4 p.m., with the possibility of longer hours later in the week.

Access will be limited to residents who live south of the slide. Only people with individual access permits will be allowed to drive past the slide area. Permits are available at City Hall.

The highway excavation efforts began Nov. 23.

The municipal line crew was able to access the area as the road clearing proceeded, and power lines were restrung and service restored past 9-Mile early Monday evening, Nov. 27.

Officials announced the restricted road reopening on Monday afternoon, Nov. 27.

Small opening timeframes will help state officials protect residents using the road. “We’ll be able to monitor the condition of the hill prior to opening to the public,” said Shannon McCarthy of the state Department of Transportation. “That schedule is likely to continue for a couple days and then we’ll most likely be able to open for longer segments of time.”

It’s unclear how long the entire cleanup process will take. But with equipment tackling debris from both the north and south, the state is well-positioned to clear the area quickly. “We’re talking about a matter of days, not weeks,” said McCarthy.

The slide left large piles of trees at both edges of the debris field and, in the center, a layer of mud about the consistency of soup, said state geologist Barrett Salisbury at a town hall meeting Nov. 25. The mud was “a person-and-a-half thick right there,” he said. “Most everywhere else, it’s just pure bedrock.”

Borough and state officials were initially concerned that large portions of the asphalt would be damaged beneath the debris, requiring a lengthy repair process. While some areas of the asphalt road were stripped away, the damage was “pretty limited,” said McCarthy. Eventually, repairs will be necessary, “but we won’t need to do it right away,” she said.

As cleanup efforts continue, an engineer and other professionals will remain onsite to address safety concerns, and a drone spotter may also monitor the site’s stability from the air. The site is full of trees and water-saturated soil, which may pose safety risks.

A DOT maintenance station north of the slide and a private contractor to the south provided equipment for the excavation effort. Having equipment on both sides of the site is “a great advantage in this case,” said McCarthy.

DOT has also received permission to use equipment from the Wrangell airport— an airport dump truck is being used to clear debris and an airport rescue trailer is providing gear for the team.

 

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