First steps toward re-opening highway blocked by mudslide

DARRINGTON, Wash. - The sound of a blender mixing milkshakes at Hometown Bakery Cafe is long overdue. This small eatery just off Highway 530 opened for the first time since the slide hit on March 22nd.

"The closure is hurting a lot of people. Businesses like this, and all the folks that need to get to jobs in Arlington and Everett," said Sueann Campbell, a cafe employee. "The fact that we've been closed all this time says it all."

So residents and business owners are taking it as an optimistic note that Snohomish County and WSDOT officials plan to start explaining to the community what it will take to get the 530 economic lifeline open once again.

"The fact that they're going to start bringing in the info, and how they're going to start doing the process is going to answer a lot of questions," Campbell said.

That info will come in the form of community meetings scheduled to begin Monday. County and state officials want to keep residents informed every step of the way, and listen to their ideas on how to proceed with the massive project.

The blockage of Highway 530 has severed what many refer to as the economic lifeline of Darrington. Many residents commute to jobs and schools in Arlington and beyond.

Before the slide, the trip between the two cities took about 35 minutes. Now, the detour through the town of Concrete can easily take two hours.

Rachel Kuonen has endured the fatigue, expense, and frustration of her new commute.

"I'm spending five-and-a-half to six hours going back and forth to Everett," said the mother of two. "It's not only the gas, it's the mileage on your car, maintenance... and home life."

She and others look forward to the day Highway 530 will re-open, but there are sensitivities to consider.

First, construction crews cannot begin clearing the 150,000 cubic yards of earth, rock and timber out of the way until the search for victims ends. No one can predict when that will be.

"It's the only priority," Campbell said. "Without doing that first and taking care of everybody there first, we can't possibly go forward."

The DOT also cannot predict how long it will take to re-open the highway or how much it will cost.

It depends on many factors. Engineers will have to determine how much damage there is to the roadway and how much can be salvaged. Part of the highway may have to be rerouted. There is difficult terrain in the way.

Some residents are also grappling with difficult emotions about the prospect of driving past the place where so many people lost their lives and homes.

"I don't know if I can do it," said Kuonen. "I wish they could just make that area a memorial or a park of something. It would just be too hard to go through there."

Officials from Snohomish County and WSDOT have released a schedule for the first community meetings to explain the process of reopening Highway 530:

7-9 p.m. Monday, April 14, at the Darrington Community Center, 570 Sauk Ave

7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, at Oso Community Chapel, 22318 Highway 530

6-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, in the Main Hall at the Stillaguamish Senior Center, 18308 Smokey Point Blvd., Arlington