It could be awhile before U.S. Highway 12 in Washington state reopens after a deluge of rain triggered washouts and rockfalls that closed a 27-mile section of the highway over White Pass on Dec. 10.
Engineers were assessing damage on both sides of White Pass and were unable to predict when the highway could be reopened.
That raises concerns for trucking companies that rely on the route and the ski resort that’s currently shut off from its employees and customers on both sides of the mountain.
“We’ve got the rockfall on the east side, a major washout on the west side and then another washout on the east side near the pass,” state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Summer Derrey said. “We just want to emphasize that this could be an extended closure.”
The closure stretches from state Route 123 east of Packwood to just west of the Rimrock Tunnel.
Update, Dec. 11: The U.S. 12 road closure now covers a 45-mile stretch, from milepost 183, which is near Naches and just a few miles from the SR 410 intersection, to milepost 138, which is near the SR 123 intersection in Lewis County.
On a typical December weekday, about 650 drivers travel the route. That number rises to about 1,000 on weekends. And those numbers double around the holidays, Derrey said.
It also is a key route for many truckers and transportation companies, including Yakima-based Haney Truck Lines, which runs 15 to 25 trucks each way over White Pass every day, Director of Safety Tom Anderson said.
The closure “has a significant scheduling and out-of-route mileage impact for us,” Anderson said. “It disrupts our pickup and delivery schedules, so we do a lot of communication with our customers.”
Rerouting depends on origin and destination, but he said they will either take Interstate 90, or go south to the Columbia Gorge and then up I-5.
But there is no alternate route to reach White Pass Ski Area.
“We’re just going to sit tight and see what they say,” resort spokeswoman Kathleen Goyette said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been through this before.”
The last time the highway had a significant washout was in October 2013, when the roadway was limited to a single lane with alternating traffic for about a month while repairs to a washout were made. The new washout on the east side of the pass is less than a mile from the location of the 2013 problem.
Another washout is located just east of the junction with state Route 123. And a rockfall blocked the road near the Rimrock Lake tunnel.
While a few employees who live in the mountains are joking that now they have private ski runs, most of the staff live on one side of the closure or the other and can’t reach the resort, Goyette said. That’s put a hitch in plans to open later this week.
“Best-case scenario is to get both sides open soon,” Goyette said.
But Anderson doesn’t have his hopes set on a speedy reopening.
“When the state DOT uses a phrase like ‘extended closure’ and looking at the damage to the road, especially given that during these wet conditions the erosion could get even more extended. ... I’m thinking 30-45 days on the short side,” he said.