BOISE - Seven months after a massive landslide buried a stretch of Highway 14, effectively cutting off the north-central Idaho town of Elk City, the debris is now cleared and repairs on the road are nearly complete.
The Feb. 18 slide sent over 100,000 cubic yards of dirt, boulders and debris onto the road. The slide was enormous in scale: It covered a 500-foot stretch of highway, and was 20 feet deep in places.
Two months later, a second slide in the same area made a bad problem even worse. Travel to and from Elk City was limited at best, causing hardships for the town of 200 people, and it would be months before the slide was cleared.
The Idaho Transportation Department called the disaster "a defining moment" for the agency.
“It was a huge challenge,” said ITD engineer Dave Kuisti. “The last time (this area) faced a challenge like this was in 1996, when flooding wiped out several area roadways.”
The biggest challenge was stuck right in the middle of the slide - a massive boulder three stories tall and 80 feet wide. Crews had to blast the boulder multiple times to get it down to a manageable size.
Clearing the highway and an area extending about 900 feet up the hillside required removal of nearly 15,500 truckloads of dirt and debris. The road fully reopened to traffic on Aug. 24.
Now ITD is putting on the final touches on the $3.5 million cleanup and repair project. Crews paved the new route last week, and plan to re-stripe it next week, if weather permits.
The final step will be to install a guardrail, to help prevent future slides covering the highway. Crews will also hydro-seed the hillside to encourage new vegetation to take root.
ITD says they wanted to complete the cleanup and repairs as quickly as possible, but safety was always their top priority.
“There was definitely pressure to get the road back open as quickly as possible, but safety – for our workers and for area motorists and citizens – had to be our overriding concern,” engineering manager Doral Hoff said. "Safety and mobility remained paramount throughout the project, and economic opportunity was restored to the county and to Elk City."
Copyright 2016 KTVB