Extreme Heat, Mudslides, Floods Send DOTs Scrambling

Updated Jul 2, 2021
Washington heat road buckles repairs
Crews repair a buckled section of State Route 544 near Everson, Washington, on June 27.
Washington DOT

Departments of Transportation around the country have been responding to extreme weather this week – from record-high temperatures buckling roads to mudslides burying highways.

The extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest has caused roads to crack and buckle, closing lanes until repairs can be made. Meanwhile, the Michigan DOT has been dealing with major Detroit freeways flooding. And Colorado drivers have been contending with repeated mudslides across Interstate 70.

Washington’s buckled roads

The Washington Department of Transportation has been busy responding to emergency road repairs as extreme temperatures are causing roads to buckle.

The WSDOT posted a road temperature map on Twitter on June 28, something it usually does only in winter, to help alert drivers to the dangers. The map shows temperatures reaching up to 121 degrees.

Washington heat road buckle map"We usually only push these out in the winter but check out these road temperatures," says the WSDOT of this map it tweeted out June 28.Washington DOT

Lanes on several major roads around the state were being closed for repairs caused by buckling, which occurs as the heated pavement sections expand beyond their confines.

Lanes on Interstate 90 in the Snoqualmie Pass area were closed for repairs, as was State Route 544 near Everson.

The concrete panels along northbound I-5 to I-705 expanded, closing three lanes of the collector-distributor and the exit to City Center. There was also buckling in the center lanes of northbound I-5 and right lanes on southbound I-5.

Washington heat road buckle I-5 TacomaExtreme heat damages section of I-5 near Tacoma.Washington DOTCrews were sanding a section of State Route 26 between Washtucna and U.S. 395 due to oil coming up through the asphalt and at SR 20 near Tiger, WSDOT East district reported. Pavement was also buckling on U.S. 195 north of Colfax.

Often, it has been too hot to make repairs during the day, and crews had to wait until night when temperatures cooled somewhat, WSDOT reported.

An excessive heat warning remains in effect through July 4, according to the National Weather Service. However, it appears the heat has peaked as of June 30, but dangerous temperatures are still in the forecast, the service reports.

Reports indicate dozens have died in the Pacific Northwest's record-high temperatures, and hundreds have been hospitalized with heat-related illnesses.

Colorado mudslides

The Colorado DOT was busy over the weekend clearing debris from I-70 in Glenwood Canyon where mudslides June 26 and 27 covered east and west lanes.

Colorado Mudslide I-70 Glenwood CanyonTwo successive mudslides on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon blocked the highway leading Colorado DOT crews to work in shifts to clear the debris.Glenwood Springs Fire DepartmentAfter clearing the lanes from the June 26 slide, crews were back the next day after a second slide. I-70 was reopened on the afternoon of June 28 after crews worked in shifts to clear the roadway of the slimy mud.

The slides were caused by heavy rain in an area that has burn scars from the Grizzly Creek Fire last summer.

Detroit freeway flooding

Heavy rains June 25 and after closed freeways in and around Detroit, causing motorists to abandon dozens of vehicles.

Roadway flooding was exacerbated when a power outage “affected dozens of freeway pump houses,” Michigan DOT reported.

Temporary generators were brought in and allowed the reopening of all freeways except for I-94 in Detroit and Dearborn between Greenfield Road and I-75, MDOT said.

“While temporary generators are working at three of the pump houses on I-94, the water flows back onto the freeway as the local creeks and rivers are cresting and there is nowhere for additional water to go,” the agency said. 

MDOT reported June 29 that the westbound lanes of I-94 had reopened, but the eastbound lanes will be closed for at least a week to repair flood damage.

Detroit clood I-94 semi-truck stuckCars and a semi-truck get stuck in floodwaters on I-94 in Detroit after heavy rains last weekend.Michigan State Police Metro Detroit