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June 3, 2014 10:45 AM, EDT
Washington Timber Truck Route Reopened
State Route 530 after the March 22 landslide. WSDOT/Flickr

Washington has reopened one lane of a main timber industry highway buried by the March landslide that left 41 people dead and two missing in the community of Oso northeast of Everett.

State Route 530, which connects Oso and Darrington to Arlington and Interstate 5, was reopened May 31 to traffic, including log trucks, lumber haulers, and dump trucks carrying compost and wood chips.

Only one lane, much of it gravel, is open and a pilot car must lead cars and trucks through at a speed of only 25 miles per hour.

Still, the reopening was welcomed by truckers, hard hit by detours so costly that in April the state — in order to keep the largest mill in the area operating — sent emergency funds to help the mill pay for the extra fuel truckers had to buy.

“It’s actually going pretty good,” a trucking firm owner, Buck Thoms, reported early last week, “About every 15 minutes we’re getting through there.”

Until the reopening, trucks were using a one-way narrow forest road owned by a utility company that the state opened weeks after the March 22 slide to help the loggers.

“You could only get through there every hour, now we’re getting through every 15 minutes,” said Thoms, whose 13-unit fleet, Buck Thoms Trucking, is located in Darrington on the east side of the slide.

“If you were eastbound, it was the bottom of the hour and if you were westbound, it was the top of the hour and if you missed it by 10 minutes you, waited 50 minutes,” he said.

Last week, Thoms was also reassembling his fleet at its Darrington terminal. After the landslide the trucks couldn’t get home which meant renting another shop on the west side of the slide, in addition to paying higher fuel bills.

“For a little guy like me it cost me a lot of money,” he said of the impact on his business.

In Everett last week, John Olson, general manager of Washington Compost Inc., was also cheering the reopening of SR 530.

The carrier uses dump trucks that could not maneuver the temporary off-road forest route. They had to run instead on Route 20 to reach I-5.

“It was taking us about two and half hours longer to go around,” Olson said of the truckloads of wood chips and sawdust his firm hauls from mills to barges bound for a Canadian paper manufacturer.

“It [took] 90 some miles off the run; that’s huge,” he said of the reopening. “The fuel costs will drop down, there’s no question about it. It’s definitely good for us. It will help stop the bleeding some.”

The carrier runs 27 truckloads a day from the Hampton Lumber Mill in Darrington, he said. In addition, there are also 100 log truck trips a day by assorted carriers taking timber to the mill, which is why SR 530 is so important to the local economy, he added.

According to the Washington Department of Transportation, contractors have moved 90,000 cubic yards of material from the highway to get it reopened and had to spread gravel along a 600-foot section that they found was completely missing any roadbed.

A $20.6 million contract has been awarded to Guy F. Atkinson Construction, a national road building firm with offices in Washington, to build the new portion of SR 530 through the slide area, the DOT said.

Due to the flood risk in the area, the road will have to be elevated and there may be times during construction that even the one-lane will be closed to traffic, DOT said.

The Federal Highway Administration is providing emergency-relief funds to pay for the road building, a substantial amount of which is expected to be finished in early October, DOT said.