Wife of rock slide victim calls for action, DOT says fix slated for 2020
An Anchorage father of three was headed to work last Friday when a rock the size of an ice cooler hit the roof of his car.
He hasn’t woken up yet.
Jason Carter’s wife, Christina, said her husband required an emergency brain surgery and is in the Intensive Care Unit.
“He’s still in critical condition,” she said during a phone interview Thursday. “He's making all the right baby steps right now to recovery, so I'm gonna hold on to that.”
Jason was traveling southbound on the Seward Highway when there was a rock slide at Mile 111.3.
On Saturday, there was another rock slide, at Mile 108.2.
“It looks to be a seemingly just fine zone, until it’s not,” said Mike Yerkes, with Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF).
The 10-mile stretch of highway between Mile 104 and Mile 114 contains several known hazard areas where rock slides are routine. Yerkes attributes recent slides to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Nov. 30 and recent weather patterns.
“When you have a rock face like this that just degraded over time due to freeze-thaw action, you might actually have a crack behind some of that but you don’t see visually as we’re looking from this angle,” Yerkes explained, pointing to a pile of rock and debris from Saturday’s slide. “That's exactly what you see happened here. You get water that infiltrates the back side of that — it expands, thaws, expands, thaws. It mechanically moves that rock outward and then eventually it loses footing and that’s what you’re seeing.”
When asked how safe the area is to drive through, Yerkes said, “If the road was unsafe, obviously we would shut it down.”
For now, a part of the stretch diverts drivers around an area with hazardous ice. At a popular spot along the rock face where people like to fill up water bottles, the state has posted warning signs and attempted to block access to pedestrians.
“We don’t want people stopping underneath these rock faces,” Yerkes said.
Months before the November earthquake, DOT&PF set a fix in motion, but the project isn’t slated to be finished until spring 2020.
Engineers in the Lower 48 will assess the most hazardous areas and decide how to fix it, which could involve bolting the rocks, putting up mesh, or pushing the entire rock face farther back off the road.
“This takes kind of a good year and a half, or two, to not only go through the engineering but get appropriate permitting go through and actually provide a plan set and stuff,” Yerkes said.
Christina Carter says the state needs to do something sooner.
“Let's be honest. That road has been a nightmare for many, many years,” she said. “ […] This is not the first time that they're aware of this being a problem and a risk.”
The state will clear the ditches earlier than usual this year, in an effort to keep falling rock and debris off the roadway. Jason Carter was traveling southbound, in the lane farthest from the rocks when his car was hit.
“Don't do this to another family,” his wife said. “2020 is not soon enough. My family is going through living hell right now trying and hoping that my kids’ dad is gonna make it. No amount of money is worth that. They need to fix this problem.”
Yerkes said there’s a possibility the project could move faster, but the timeline is based on logistics.
“We’re doing what we feel we can and hopefully if we can accelerate that we can, but again, it’s a process that’s kinda — you gotta do the engineering to be able to do the construction,” he said, “So we’re in the process of doing that.”
According to a DOT&PF spokesperson, the project has received funding for its design phase, but not the actual work.
“In terms of danger, we don’t feel there’s an immediate threat,” Yerkes said. “Obviously if there was, we would shut the road down.”
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