Rockfall risk will keep SR 503 east of Woodland closed through the spring

YALE – Drivers who travel to the areas near the north end of Lake Merwin and Yale Lake will need to add extra time in their trips throughout the spring.

With recent assessments of the hillside above State Route 503 near Speelyai Bay Road revealing additional movement near the cliff face, and the potential for large rock slabs to fall onto the highway, the Washington State Department of Transportation will keep the road closed for an indeterminate amount of time.

The red line outlines the approximate area of a large rock slab which has separated from the hillside on SR 503, west of Woodland. The highway was closed on Mon., March 13, when a portion of the slope slid carrying rocks, mud and trees onto the roadway. Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation
The red line outlines the approximate area of a large rock slab which has separated from the hillside on SR 503, west of Woodland. The highway was closed on Mon., March 13, when a portion of the slope slid carrying rocks, mud and trees onto the roadway. Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation

WSDOT geotechnical engineers have been unable to safely access the site for a closer look, but used an aerial drone for evaluation and to gather survey data.

“We want to begin cleanup and repair work as soon as possible,” said WSDOT project engineer Lori Figone. “Once access is safe, we’ll have a clearer picture of the extent of the repair work and the timetable to get the job done.”

For the next several weeks, WSDOT will monitor the movements of the hillside and incorporate the additional data into a construction contract that will remove unstable rock and debris while stabilizing the hillside.


This video, taken from an aerial drone, shows that clearing the debris slide blocking SR 503, 20 miles east of Woodland, isn’t as easy as just removing trees and rocks from the highway. A large crack shows where the rock face of the slope has separated from the hillside, making it unsafe below. Record rainfall along with freezing temperatures aided in the debris fall. As of Fri., March 17, the slope was still moving and unstable. Video courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation.

SR 503 closed on Mon., March 13, when a debris slide knocked trees and rocks down onto the highway, also known as Lewis River Road.

Drivers can sign up to receive updates about the work with WSDOT’s email list for Cowlitz County.

Hyperlinks within the release:

Information provided by Washington State Department of Transportation.

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