Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, March 7, 2023 @ 3:21 p.m.
Curry County's Plan to Reopen North Bank Rogue River Road Hinges On the Weather; Rain Is Forecasted For Thursday Night, Friday Morning
Curry County has a plan for reopening North Bank Rogue River Road to at least one lane for the first time since December.
But whether that short-term fix happens by this weekend depends on the weather, County Counsel and Director of Operations Ted Fitzgerald told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Tuesday.
After the Board of Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved an agreement with Tidewater Contracting to perform the project, crews have been bringing equipment and material to the landslide area near milepost marker 3.1 between Marchmont Road and Edson Creek Road.
However, Fitzgerald said a big rain event in the forecast is concerning.
“I don’t want to open it up and have it start to pour water into an open excavation (site) and add moisture to that already active slide,” he said. “I’m going to leave that up to our engineer and our contractor and leave it to their best judgment.”
Storms over the Christmas weekend spawned the landslide that closed North Bank Rogue River Road. On Feb. 9, the Curry County Road Department asked people to use detours on Edson Creek or Cedar Valley roads if they needed to access the road upriver of the slide.
According to Fitzgerald, high river levels took out the bank underneath the road and washed riprap from previous repairs into the water. There’s also no toe zone at the bottom of the riverbank, so there’s nothing to build on, Fitzgerald said.
Tidewater Contracting will cut a trench where the road has been undermined and use compacted rock and engineering fill it in, locking it into the more stable sandstone substrate underneath, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said there wasn’t a “hard cost estimate” yet for the project, though he presented the cheapest of four options to the Board of Commissioners on Monday.
“This method is kind of the most efficient, quickest and, really, most economical as well,” he told the Outpost.
The county is planning reopening the road to one-lane access that’s “wide enough for everybody to be safe,” Fitzgerald said. There will be lights and signs going in both directions, however Fitzgerald said he’s not yet sure if a temporary traffic signal will be used at that location.
The Gold Beach area could see 1 to 3 inches of rain starting as early as Thursday afternoon and continuing into Friday morning, said Marc Spilde, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Medford office. But the system isn’t expected to hang around for long, he said.
Though Fitzgerald mentioned an atmospheric river in the forecast, Spilde said communities in the Sierras, Sacramento and Lake Tahoe will bear the brunt.
“They’re going to get nailed down there with several inches of rain on top of snow,” Spilde said. “The real flood potential is south of the Oregon-California border. In a typical situation like this we would probably be seeing river rises and ponding of water on the roadways, but I don’t foresee significant mainstream river (flooding) potential.”
The impending storm is expected to pass through the Southern Oregon coast by Friday afternoon, Spilde said, noting that 1-3 inches is fairly typical for the region.
Commissioners on Monday also discussed a long-term fix to the stretch of North Bank Rogue River Road that continues to erode. According to Fitzgerald, the proposed long-term fix has been estimated to cost $3.5 million and would involve using soldier piles driven into the bedrock to anchor the road.
The long-term fix is a project Curry County will likely be looking to the Oregon Department of Transportation to help fund, according to Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said Curry County is looking to fill its vacant roadmaster position, stating that Richard Christensen is no longer with the county. In addition to trying to reopen North Bank Rogue River Road, the road department is responding to “all these snow events,” Fitzgerald said.
“Unfortunately we went into this last weekend with only one working plow and it was in the south county,” he said, adding that three plows were once located in each of the county’s population centers. “The one in the central county had a cracked radiator and the one in the north county lost the (power take-off mechanism) that drives the plow. We got that one hauled back and we’re working on those trying to get them up and running.”
Fitzgerald said the county will be researching ways to get those emergency projects done more efficiently.