Winter slide activity on Oregon 66 is as common in winter as snow on the Siskiyous for Greensprings residents like Diarmuid McGuire. However, last spring near milepost 12, McGuire saw something much more ominous. This crack in the highway was different. The asphalt ledge was steeper and dropping more with each day.
“We’ve driven up and down this mountain since 1988,” said McGuire, owner of the Green Springs Inn & Cabins. “That section has creeped downhill for all these years but I have never seen it move so fast.”
Winter slide activity regularly leads to cracks along the Greensprings Highway. ODOT regularly uses asphalt patches when stretches of dry weather arrive in the spring. At milepost 12, four asphalt patches, at a cost exceeding $200,000, were applied before Memorial Day weekend.
“The wet weather this past winter and spring was just too much for our patches,” said ODOT District Manager Jerry Marmon. “We monitored the highway after each patch but it became clear the slide activity was just too severe. Locals took to calling the slide the ‘Crack of Doom.’”
The location is a perennial headache on the historic Greensprings Highway near the Cascade summit. ODOT maintenance crews return each spring and summer to begin repairs, only to see it break away the following winter.
This highway closed for two weeks in August 2006 for slide repairs and the replacement of a nearby six-foot culvert that served as a major collector of storm run-off. The slide activity required a temporary highway closure while a larger culvert was installed and the roadbed was raised. In 2012, ODOT geologists and contract drillers bored deep holes to place monitoring instruments that determine not only what’s going on under the surface but also what kind of fix is needed to repair the slide.
“The monitors give us a picture of the slide’s vertical and horizontal shifts,” said Marmon.
Crack of Doom
ODOT had begun drawing up plans for a major repair project in 2018, looking to bundle with another slide repair project on the Old Siskiyou Highway (Oregon 273). Meanwhile, McGuire and other local residents petitioned the agency to advance the project schedule.
“We can work around an outage but an unplanned and indefinite road closure would be very difficult for our community,” McGuire wrote to Marmon.
Marmon advanced the project.
“We had hoped to bundle the repair to save money,” said Marmon, “but we won’t risk the Greensprings Highway sliding off the mountain in the meantime.”
Once repair plans advanced, ODOT expedited the right of way process to secure a single parcel of land necessary to build a large rock buttress and a new drainage system. The highway failed again after Memorial Day weekend, reducing traffic to a single lane controlled by a temporary signal until a contractor could be hired to begin repair work.
According to Marmon, the month of August was the ideal time, both before the school year resumed and late enough in the summer to ensure the water springs beneath the highway were dry. A public meeting with the Greensprings community weighed other concerns, including the effect of a lengthy detour on tourism and recreational interests as well as potential wildfire response. Agreement resulted in a plan to complete the repair work in August with completion before Labor Day.
Tyler Creek Road
Many residents living along the Greensprings commute daily into the Rogue Valley. The signed detour — Dead Indian Memorial and Hyatt-Prairie Roads — extended the trip an hour longer, so locals used Tyler Creek Road as a shortcut. ODOT’s outreach materials and detour map made no mention of the unpaved route, which features steep slopes and sharp turns with no guardrail.
Although the drive time was roughly the same as the official detour, Tyler Creek Road saw increased traffic from local drivers. Anticipating this, ODOT paid Jackson County to grade and oil the road for dust before, during and after the slide repair project.
Summer is typically the worst time to bid a road construction project. Contractors usually have full schedules lined up. Fortunately, one nearby contractor was available when the slide repair project was advertised.
The winning bidder, Suulutaaq Construction, was working a project at nearby Hyatt Lake. The company is based in Alaska with offices along the West Coast.
“Their construction manager lives on the Greensprings,” said Marmon. “We were fortunate to have a company so familiar with the area.”
The highway closed on August 3. Construction began immediately with a goal to open at least a single lane of traffic by Sept. 1. Much of the roadway required excavation down to bedrock.
Both lanes, newly paved, reopened to traffic on Sept. 1.
“We had a queue of recreational traffic — travel trailers and campers — ready to go when we reopened at 5 p.m.,” said Marmon. “It felt good to deliver on our promise.”
Praise from the Greensprings
Thank you so much for the beautiful repair of Highway 66. You folks did a spectacular job.
— Steve B.
The road looks great and you did a wonderful job keeping us neighbors informed during the process. Also did a great job keeping Tyler Creek dust to a minimum. Thanks for getting the job done!
— Alison K.
I commend you and your staff for the way you handled this task from the moment it became clear it had to be done this summer. As chair of the Pinehurst School District Board, I appreciate the job was done with the least amount of delay for the students to ride the Ashland school bus and for the staff of our district who live in Ashland and drive to Pinehurst every school day.
— Sam A.