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Valdez avalanche: Richardson Highway to reopen Wednesday afternoon

Laurel Andrews
Snow lines the Richardson highway as crews work to remove more than 40 feet of snow from the roadway following a series of avalanches in late January. Feb. 2 2014
Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation
Massive avalanches closed the Richardson Highway near Valdez over the weekend.
Courtesy Alyeska Pipeline Service Company security team
Crews terrace snow from the roadway to prevent snow from falling back onto the Richardson Highway. Feb. 1 2014
Courtesy Office of the Governor
Looking south, after flood waters have receded from a lake created after the Lowe River was dammed following a series of avalanches. Jan. 30 2014
Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation
DOT crews remove debris north of the avalanche near mile 16 of the Richardson Highway. Jan. 30 2014
Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation
Ice and debris deposited on the Richardson Highway as flood water recedes. Jan. 30 2014
Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation
Photos taken during an aerial reconnaissance of debris on the roadway and damming of Lowe River north of Valdez following a series of avalanches over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
Water gushes from the dammed Lowe River north of Valdez through an old Alaska railroad tunnel. Photo taken during an aerial reconnaissance by city of Valdez officials. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
The Richardson Highway covered in snow and debris following a series of avalanches over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
Water draining from the dammed Lowe River following a series of avalanches over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
Keystone Canyon, flooded following a series of avalanches over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
A lake created by avalanches that dammed the Lowe River over the weekend that is complicating the removal of debris from the roadway. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
The Richardson Highway covered in water and debris, as seen during a aerial reconnaissance of the roadway following a series of avalanches over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
A lake created following avalanches that dammed the Lowe River north of Valdez over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
Avalanches swept through Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon north of Valdez over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
Photo taken during an aerial reconnaissance of debris on the roadway and damming of Lowe River north of Valdez following a series of avalanches over the weekend. Jan. 27, 2014
Courtesy city of Valdez
A wall of snow lines the Richardson Highway as crews work to remove snow from the roadway. Feb. 2 2014
Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation
Massive avalanches closed the Richardson Highway near Valdez.
Courtesy Alyeska Pipeline Service Company security team

The Richardson Highway north of Valdez will be open on Wednesday by 3 p.m., the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Tuesday morning. The road serves as the sole ground connection for the Southcentral Alaska community, and a series of avalanches has shut it down for 12 days thus far.

DOT is “confident that we’ll have it all clear by tomorrow morning,” and the road will be open by the afternoon, said spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow. On Friday, DOT estimated that the road would be open in 3-5 days.

“They were working around the clock to make sure they could get the work done,” Woodrow said.

The Richardson Highway is undamaged, Woodrow said, except for some guardrails and road signs. DOT will continue to monitor the snow pile until it all melts -- and there’s so much snow that it may not even melt this summer, DOT said on Sunday.

The series of avalanches that shut down the road starting Jan. 31 dumped 40 feet of snow on the road, and 100 feet of snow on the Lowe River. The slide dammed the river, spilling water into the Keystone Canyon and creating a lake that submerged roughly half a mile of roadway and halted snow clean-up for days.

Crews moved between 100,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of snow from the roadway, DOT estimates. Crews terraced the snow so it won’t cave into the road again. Workers are also building a wall of snow behind the terraces to help keep any future avalanches this winter from falling into the road.

The city of Valdez did not suffer any shortages of food or fuel, and the airport and port remained open through the event. Nevertheless, Sheri Pierce, Valdez city clerk, said that residents are “extremely happy” that the road will be open again. 

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @Laurel_Andrews