By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Crews from Caltrans and Skanska – the contractor hired to do the emergency repairs on the washed-out area of Highway 18 – are currently removing the loose debris so they can begin the actual repair work.
On Dec. 31, Caltrans Public Information Officer Emily Leinen took folks on a video tour of the area at Post Mile 15 between Highway 138 and Upper Waterman Canyon, which washed out in heavy rain on Dec. 22. Leinen was cautious as she approached the edge of where the road falls off and the steep slope begins.
“It is very muddy, very slippery,” Leinen said.
“The area is still sopping wet,” she noted. “We are trying to assess how long the repairs will take. There is no timeframe yet. We don’t know where the three-week rumor came from – it didn’t come from us.
“I think it will be longer than three weeks,” Leinen said. “The damage is pretty extensive. It goes all the way to the guardrail and pretty far down the side of the mountain.”
She added Caltrans hopes to have a better timeframe in the next week as the mountain experiences drier weather.
Leinen explained that the repair work will start from the bottom to the top. “If you rebuild from the top, gravity will take hold and knock it all down again. We are trying to prevent that.”
When a viewer asked why motorists couldn’t use the northbound lanes of Highway 18, Leinen said crews will be working there “so we can’t open them up to the public for travel.”
However, she added, those lanes will be open for emergency responders if and when necessary.
As she panned over to the excavator working on the side of the mountain, Leinen commented that it is incredibly steep. “Props to the excavator operator,” she said.
Skanska will try to reuse a lot of the same materials that are present on the hillside. If they are too loose, however, they won’t be able to use them and will bring in something else. She compared using the existing materials to a transplant for a body part. “Having a donor the same as the area will work out better,” she said.
When asked if Skanska will be installing proper drainage, Leinen said the drain wasn’t the problem.
“The drain did what it was supposed to do but it got clogged with debris so the water had nowhere to go.” Leinen added they will be digging up the area where the culvert inlet is. “It got so backed up, the water ran across the roadway, over the side of the mountain and started washing away the side of the mountain.”
When asked what will happen when the next storm rolls in, Leinen said they will put a giant tarp over the area to keep it as dry as possible. “We already have sandbags out and will put out more sandbags to divert any water from hitting the location and eroding it further. We need to keep it dry to continue work. I hope we don’t get too much more rain or snow.
“Please be patient as we deal with the mud and debris,” Leinen asked. “We are trying to work as quickly as possible.”
Skanska will work seven days a week from dusk to dawn, Leinen said, adding they may try to work at night but, even with lights, it may be too dangerous.
Reminding people of the two alternate routes – Highways 138 and 330 – Leinen said that “I do understand the inconvenience. I live up here – I’m a local. I will be going around just like you.”
Keeping Highway 18 closed, she added, will expedite the repairs.
To sign up for email updates on the Highway 18 emergency project, text 18REPAIR to 22828. The video can be viewed on the Caltrans District 8 Facebook page.