In announcing loosened restrictions on a bypass route around the Highway 530 mudslide, state Transportation Department spokesman Travis Phelps had a request: “Remember that a lot of lives were lost here,” he said. “It’s not a tourist attraction, so please be respectful.”
On Thursday, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said people traveling to community events in Darrington may use the one-lane, partly paved roadway that leads around the south edge of the debris field from the massive March 22 mudslide.
The route provides the most direct access to Darrington from most other cities.
“We’re thrilled,” said Martha Rasmussen, an organizer of Darrington Day on May 31. “Without that road we would have been sunk.”
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The decision will also help visitors headed to the Darrington Bluegrass Festival July 18-20.
Phelps said the agency still regards the route as open only to people who live in — or have a business or commercial connection to — communities along the Highway 530 corridor.
He said WSDOT’s view is that “if folks use the road to attend events in Darrington, we feel that is having a business tie with the community.”
Phelps said curiosity about the slide is understandable, but that driving the route, with steep drop-off’s on one side, demands a driver’s full attention.
There’s already been one fender-bender caused by someone texting while driving, he said.
In other changes or clarifications to the route restrictions, Phelps said the bypass may be used by vehicles pulling trailers up to 24 feet long. Also allowed are freight trucks up to 33 feet long with business in Darrington.
Another change: Logging trucks, which had been limited to travel between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., may now use the bypass at any hour.
Phelps cautioned that the route includes sections with up to an 18 percent grade, which may be too steep for some vehicles.
The requirement that drivers have a connection to the area depends on public cooperation, since no one is checking identification.
Using the bypass, the 28-mile drive between Arlington and Darrington can take about 45 minutes. In comparison, the Highway 20 detour route, the route WSDOT recommends for general travel, takes more than an hour and a half between the two towns.
As is currently the case, drivers through the three-mile bypass zone will travel behind a pilot car. The speed limit is 10 mph, and stopping is not allowed.
Traffic moves through the restricted area in one direction at a time. Caravans enter the Arlington side of the zone every hour on the half-hour, and enter the Darrington side of the route every hour on the hour.
State troopers are stationed at each end of the bypass.
The bypass road, which had been used by Seattle City Light crews, is part dirt, part gravel and has some asphalt sections. It runs south of the debris field east of Oso.
The remains of 41 people have been recovered from the slide. Two other victims remain missing.
Jack Broom: email@example.com or 206-464-2222