State Transportation (WSDOT) officials today loosened restrictions on use of a one-lane road that bypasses the Highway 530 mudslide, saying that people headed to community events in the highway corridor may travel the route.
“We’re thrilled,” said Martha Rasmussen, an organizer of Darrington Day on May 31. “Without that road we would have been sunk.”
The decision will also help visitors headed to the Darrington Bluegrass Festival in July.
Travis Phelps, WSDOT spokesman, 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.
But 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.”
In other changes or clarifications to the route restrictions, Phelps said the bypass may be used by vehicles pulling trailers that are 24 feet long or less. Also allowed are freight trucks 33 feet long or less, with business in Darrington.
He cautions that the route includes sections with up to an 18-percent grade, which may be too steep for some vehicles.
The requirement for a connection to the area depends on public cooperation, since no one is checking drivers’ identification.
The partly unpaved road provides the most direct access to Darrington from most other Western Washington cities. 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 on 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 mudslide debris field east of Oso.
The remains of 41 people have been recovered in debris from the massive March 22 mudslide. Two other victims remain missing.