ODOT will reopen eastbound I-84 on Monday
Interstate 84 eastbound through the Columbia River Gorge will be opened by late Sunday, Sept. 24, or early Monday, authorities say. The freeway's westbound lanes have been opened for the past week after the Eagle Creek wildfire forced its closure earlier in the month.
Oregon Department of Transportation officials say almost all of eastbound I-84 will be open to public — except on a short segment of road near Shell Rock Mountain, where traffic will be routued onto westbound I-84.
The change to one lane of traffic moving in each direction will occur near Milepost 56, because the eastbound lanes in that area are too close to steep hillsides that have been destabilized by the still-smoldering fire.
"We've got some continuing threats from the mountain (that) could come down on the eastbound lanes," explained ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. "So we're trying to get eastbound traffic a little bit removed in that area."
Local news reporters saw the rocky terrain for themselves during a guided tour on Thursday, Sept. 21, where contracted workers chucked tree roots, rocks and other debris down a slope above the shuttered Historic Columbia River Highway near Toothrock Tunnel.
The Historic Highway remains closed for good reason. Metal guardrails displayed the aftermath of blunt-force impacts likely caused by falling rocks or trees. News crews even spotted a burning tree, despite the heavy downpours in recent days.
Up above, workers known as rock-scalers were targeting downed trees, loose rock and still-standing dead timber, or snags. Using ropes to move around the steep grade, workers unceremoniously dumped trees blackened by fire or uprooted from the soil on the road.
"We've had good conditions (on) a fairly good day. Smaller crews have been able to get up there and take down the final hazards," reported Tom Braibish, an ODOT geotechnical engineer who was supervising a crew of eight workers from Triptych Construction.
Braibish said the rock scalers highest priorities also included McCord Creek to the west, where another bridge was located neary rocky slopes.
Some 4,100 fire-damaged trees have been cut down along I-84, and many have been collected in a grassy median near Ainsworth State Park.
Rachel Pawlitz, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said many of the logs wood be mulched, though some could be used for trail restoration or helping to protect fish spawning areas.
"One of the key things about logs that make them so great for fish habitats is that, basically, fish like complexity," she said. "Fish like places to hide."
Local media representatives also viewed Oneonta Tunnel, a historic piece of infrastructure that was scorched during the first days of the allegedly human-sparked blaze.
Rachel Dinwiddie, another ODOT spokesman, said there's a "possibility" the reinforced-concrete lined tunnel may collapse.
"The tunnel has been burned from the inside ... The timbers are almost entirely been burned," she noted. "Our plan is to get the roads open first, Interstate 84 and eventually the Historic Columbia River Highway. That's where ODOT is putting its focus right now.
"The timelines for the tunnel is undetermined at this time. What we have to do is figure out how to pay for it," she continued.
Dinwiddie said the agency would approach the Federal Highway Administration for additional funds to repair the tunnel, which was re-opened to the pedestrian and bike-riding public in 2009.