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Richardson Highway Valdez Avalanche Updates

Alaska DOT&PF Map

On Friday, Jan. 24, at approximately 6:30 a.m., multiple avalanches crossed the Richardson Highway in the Thompson Pass region. ADOT&PF closed the highway from milepost 12-64 through the weekend. The avalanches occurred naturally after the department made several attempts to mitigate avalanche risk up to 10 days prior to the closure. The department continues to assess the stability of the snowpack and will begin clearing debris from the highway once it is determined that it is safe for crews to access the area.

ADOT&PF maintenance crews successfully brought down additional slides over the weekend and have stabilized some sections of the highway. Crews have begun removing debris from the milepost 39.5 slide. Other sections of the highway still remain far too unstable and unsafe to access. A large slide in Keystone Canyon that crossed the Lowe River has formed a dam which caused flooding in valley upstream. Some water is receding through an old railway tunnel but not enough to allow crews to begin removing the slide debris.

Updates:

January 28, 2014

Two videos of Richardson Highway Avalanche Outside Valdez, Alaska

Above: Approaching from the south in Keystone Canyon
Below: Approaching from the north in Keystone Canyon

January 28, 2014, 10:00 a.m.

  1. Currently it is lightly raining in Valdez and out to the Canyon.
  2. The City of Valdez has set up a live feed video camera at the southern mouth of the canyon to also watch water flow. The level of the impounded water on the north side of the avalanche is continuing to drop. Currently the water level has receded from the southern bridge approach of the Lowe River Bridge on the north side of the canyon.
  3. As stated yesterday, the estimated snow on the roadway is approximately 40 feet deep and 1000-1500 feet in length. As of yesterday it was estimated that there was about 10-15 feet of impounded water on the roadway north of the avalanche.
  4. ADOT&PF crews are continuing to monitor the rate at which the water level is dropping. This is being done to inform the department of the current conditions and also to ensure if there is a sudden release of water (THIS IS NOT EXPECTED) that we can relay this to the City of Valdez so they may forward the information to residents out around 10 mile.
  5. Once it gets light, the department will begin clearing 39 mile Avalanches from the roadway. There will be spotters present to watch the area while crews are working on this activity.
  6. Since the water elevation is dropping, the department will review the avalanche site in the canyon to assess the water flows in the river, Tunnel, and along the ditch lines. This will help to better judge the actual height of snow on the roadway and get a better estimate on the quantities of material to move. This will also allow the department to review the bridge abutment and the bridge approach embankments to ensure there is no damage as a result of the water flows.
  7. ADOT&PF is going to continue to assess the avalanche activity in the upper portion of the pass and determine if we can open the roadway north of approximately milepoint 19 once we have all of the smaller avalanches clear. If the decision is made to open the roadway we will update the 511.alaska.gov website to reflect these conditions. The department will also update the messages on the portable message boards which are located in Tok and Delta.

Richardson Highway Closure Update: 1/29/14

(VALDEZ, Alaska) – The Richardson Highway from milepost 12 to 42 remains closed until further notice.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) staff continues to monitor the level of the lake formed behind the avalanche dam in Keystone Canyon. The water continues to recede, and the flooded area behind the slide is approximately 1,500 feet in length; reduced from Monday’s estimation of 2,500 feet. The area is still too unstable and dangerous for crews to safely begin clearing slide debris.

ADOT&PF crews continue to clear slide debris today at milepost 39 and are in the process of verifying the stability of snowpack. The department will make another announcement when the highway can safely be opened from milepost 19-42. This section of highway remains closed until further notice and motorists are advised to avoid the area and to respect all posted road closures. The public is not permitted past the avalanche gates.

Richardson Highway Closure Update: 1/28/14

(VALDEZ, Alaska) –The Richardson Highway from milepost 12 to 42 remains closed until further notice.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) staff continues to monitor the level of the lake formed behind the avalanche dam in Keystone Canyon. The water continues to recede, however the area is still too unstable and dangerous for crews to begin clearing slide debris. A timeline for when this work will begin is still unknown due to the variability of the receding water.

ADOT&PF crews began clearing slide debris today at milepost 39. Upon clearing this section of highway, the department will conduct additional avalanche mitigation measures. Once it is determined that the snowpack is stable in this section of the highway, the road may open from milepost 42-19. Until further notice this section of the highway remains closed. Motorists are advised to avoid the area and to respect all posted road closures.

Avalanche has dammed the Lowe River. (Alaska DOT&PF photo)

Richardson Highway Closure Update: 1/27/14

Highway Closure Update:
The Richardson Highway remains closed from milepost 12-42 until further notice. ADOT&PF maintenance crews successfully brought down additional slides over the weekend and have stabilized some sections of the highway. Crews have begun removing debris from the milepost 39.5 slide. Other sections of the highway still remain far too unstable and unsafe to access. A large slide in Keystone Canyon that crossed the Lowe River has formed a dam which caused flooding in valley upstream. Some water is receding through an old railway tunnel but not enough to allow crews to begin removing the slide debris.

ADOT&PF is working on rerouting ferry service to Valdez. An additional two direct Whittier to Valdez sailings will be added, for a total of three direct Whittier to Valdez sailings this week. An updated schedule will be available at FerryAlaska.com later today.

Richardson Highway Closure Update: 1/24/14

(VALDEZ, Alaska) –The Richardson Highway from milepost 12 to 64 will remain closed through Sunday afternoon due to multiple avalanches blocking the roadway.
Current weather conditions and unstable snowpack present an extreme danger on the highway. Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) maintenance crews must allow the wet, heavy snow to stabilize before the slide debris can be safely cleared from the roadway. Additional avalanche mitigation work will also be necessary before the highway can be reopened to motorists.

For further details and updates, please visit 511.alaska.gov, dial 5-1-1, or check for 511 updates on Facebook and Twitter. ADOT&PF reminds drivers to exercise extreme caution if traveling through mountain passes in this region as there is an increased possibility for more avalanches to occur and to be aware of flaggers and heavy equipment in the roadway.

 

Richardson Highway Closed Due to Avalanche Activity

(VALDEZ, Alaska) –The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) has closed the Richardson Highway from milepost 12-64 due to multiple avalanches blocking the roadway.

All vehicles traveling through the area at approximately 6:30 a.m., when the avalanches occurred, were not caught by the slides. One vehicle did hit snow already on the roadway at milepost 39.5. The occupant of this vehicle was unharmed and has been transported to a safer location.

ADOT&PF maintenance crews will allow the wet, heavy snow to stabilize before safely using all available equipment and personnel to clear the road. The highway will be closed for at least 24 hours, depending on weather conditions.

For further details and updates on driving conditions, drivers can visit 511.alaska.gov, dial 5-1-1, or check for 511 updates on Facebook and Twitter. ADOT&PF reminds drivers to exercise extreme caution if traveling through mountain passes in this region as there is an increased possibility for more avalanches to occur and to be aware of flaggers and heavy equipment in the roadway.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities oversees 254 airports, 11 ferries serving 35 communities, 5,619 miles of highway and 720 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. The mission of the department is to “Keep Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure.”

 

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