HOOD RIVER, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Department of Transportation reopened westbound lanes of I-84 from Hood River to Cascade Locks around 7 p.m. on Wednesday — a day after ice and dangerous road conditions stranded hundreds — if not thousands — of people.
ODOT officials said its workers would use plows, deicer and salt to finish clearing the roadway of ice and snow after the closure was lifted. The transportation department said westbound traffic will move slowly for several hours as trucks that were delayed head back onto the roadway. ODOT advised travelers to avoid the Gorge area as freezing rain is expected to make the roads icy. If you have to travel, officials said you must carry chains and know how to use them.
Road crews worked all day Wednesday to clear the stranded motorists after closing the westbound lanes around 2 a.m. Several semis had slid and crashed in different parts of the Gorge Tuesday evening, prompting the closure.
Don Hamilton with the Oregon Department of Transportation said their top priority was to get the drivers off I-84 and out of the Gorge. He called it a horrible experience for drivers and said ODOT would review how they handled the situation once it is over.
“It took us a while to get the crews we needed in the middle of the night there to do a good evaluation. We were hoping that we were going to get that open quickly, and it didn’t turn out like that,” Hamilton told KOIN 6 News. “And when we finally determined that this is not going to be quick, it’s not going to be fast, that’s when we closed the road to make sure we didn’t make things worse.”
ODOT said all the vehicles that had been stuck overnight between mileposts 46 and 49 had been cleared by 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
The stranded motorists include a hockey team
Drivers who spoke with KOIN 6 News said they just want to get going.
Several of the stranded drivers told KOIN 6 News they were stuck for over 15 hours — forcing some to pull over and sleep in their cars.
“Basically, it’s taken me about 14 hours to do 20 miles,” truck driver Ray Gibner said.
One driver said he moved less than 10 miles between 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. Wednesday. A KOIN 6 viewer also said it took her husband 18 hours to drive from LaGrande to North Plains, and the majority of his time was spent in a 3-mile stretch near Cascade Locks. The drive normally takes 5 hours.
“We’ve been out here all day yesterday and starting a new day today,” Scott Herrin, another truck driver, said.
TRAFFIC ALERT: Countless stranded semis and minor crashes has closed 1-84 WB. Closure stretches from Cascade Locks to Hood River. Terrible road conditions – avoid the area. #KOIN6News pic.twitter.com/XCoSeJ3TbL— Elise Haas (@EliseKOIN) February 13, 2019
A hockey team from Canada was also caught up in the traffic mess. The Red Deer Rebels hockey team decided to take a detour through the Gorge after finding out Snoqualmie Pass was closed, but they inevitably got caught in the I-84 backup. After ODOT closed the westbound lanes, the team took refuge at the McDonalds in Hood River.
They found ways to stay busy, playing card games and enjoying hot food, and they said they know the situation could have been worse if they were stuck on the highway instead.
“I guess we got the best of it because we have something to eat, but we have a game tonight so I think our pregame is going to be a Big Mac,” said Rebels player Hunter Donohoe.
Unfortunately, the delay meant the team would likely miss their game in Everett, Washington Wednesday night. The Rebels said they’ll be back in Portland to play on Saturday if the winter weather doesn’t wreak havoc on the roads again.
Truckers without chains
Don Hamilton with ODOT said they had crews working 12-hour shifts to tow away the semis blocking traffic and help drivers who were stuck all night.
According to Hamilton, part of the problem is that semi-trucks were driving without chains on their tires, which are required in that area. That sentiment was shared by other truck drivers stranded in the mess.
ODOT added that people were getting cited for not using chains/traction devices. Commercial truck drivers can face a $440 fine.
Oregon State Police troopers were also on the scene — helping clear the roads and handing out food, water and fuel to stranded drivers.
Driving conditions have been dangerous lately in the Gorge as winter weather continues to hit the area. The highway has dealt with three traffic messes in the past three days.
The entire highway was closed for hours on Tuesday due to a crash involving three semis. I-84 was also temporarily shut down on Monday after a semi-tractor with two tanker trucks tipped over and spilled about 2,500 gallons of diesel.
ODOT had plans to clean up the spill on Wednesday, but due to the mess on I-84, they postponed it for another day.
Watch: Don Hamilton talks to KOIN 6 about I-84 traffic mess