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News / Clark County News

Intense rain cited in I-5 landslide that closed northbound freeway

Washington Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti among delayed; state monitors area

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 11, 2023, 5:46pm

State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti was getting ready to make the drive back to Olympia after a day in Vancouver when he got word that all of northbound Interstate 5 near Woodland was blocked due to a landslide.

“Good luck on I-5,” Pellicciotti recalled someone telling him. Unaware of the landslide, Pellicciotti laughed it off, assuming they were describing a typical drive on the interstate before he was let in on the news.

Pellicciotti had been in town for a meeting with Oregon’s treasurer to review funding and financing plans to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, a notorious choke point on I-5.

Although not nearly the bottleneck the bridge is, the hilly area north of Woodland has been a target of recent landslides, with two occurring on that section of I-5 in 2015 and 2017. The 2015 landslide led to a hillside stabilization project that lasted into 2016.

The culprit: intense rain, said Kelly Hanahan, Washington State Department of Transportation assistant communications manager.

In fact, the rain was record-breaking.

Through Monday, the first 10 days of April were the wettest in recorded history near Portland International Airport, with about half of the 3 inches falling on Sunday and Monday, according to Tyler Kranz, a lead meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.

The landslide was reported around 3:15 p.m. on Monday, and northbound I-5 was reopened at 6:30 p.m. No injuries were reported, and two vehicles were caught in the slide. Protocol requires that WSDOT waits until the slope is deemed stable enough by geotechnical engineers before they can clear the debris, Hanahan said.

“WSDOT will continue to monitor slide activity in this area, and if additional slope stabilization work is deemed necessary, it will be prioritized against other statewide needs and funding would need to be identified,” Hanahan said in an email.

Sheri Call, president and CEO of the Washington Trucking Associations, said that although the landslide was cleaned up quickly, the area has become a frequent spot for landslides.

“It speaks to the importance of a reliable system,” Call said. “It’s not just one highway or one bridge but an entire network of systems that keep freight and traffic flowing for sustained periods of time and that’s what the industry depends upon.”

Pellicciotti decided to stay in Vancouver until things cleared up. Traffic flowed normally as he approached Woodland at around 8:30 p.m., but he kept an eye out for any remnants of mud or debris. He couldn’t spot any.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer