Natural gas scare scrambles evening commute

A natural gas scare closed the eastern entrance to Astoria Tuesday night.

A natural gas scare closed Lief Erikson Drive near 39th and 45th streets in Astoria Tuesday, backing up traffic for roughly 2 1/2 hours during a soggy evening commute.

Police closed a portion of the road at about 4:45 p.m. By 7:15 p.m., the road was reopened but traffic moved slowly because of the lengthy delay.

A slight pressure change inside a pipeline caused a relief valve to lift, which caused the emission of the gas odor, NW Natural spokeswoman Melissa Moore said.

“This was our system working as it should,” Moore said.

The road is the eastern entrance into the city via U.S. Highway 30. Astoria Fire Chief Ted Ames said “it caused a lot of headaches for a lot of people.”

As the odor of gas hung in the air for blocks, a miles-long row of stalled cars headed east waited before the road was reopened. Drivers approaching the city from the east were also stuck.

Matthew White exited the Astoria Bridge at about 5 p.m. as he was driving home to Knappa from his job in Long Beach, Washington. By 6:30 p.m., he was stalled less than a mile east of Safeway. To pass the time, he munched on tortilla chips and salsa he had purchased at the grocery store.

“I knew there was, like, a wreck or something, so I figured, ‘Why not just grab something at Safeway?’”

Justin Schuyler, a manager at Geno’s Pizza and Burgers at 37th Street and Lief Erikson, stood outside the restaurant just after 6 p.m. He was awaiting the return of a driver who had delivered food to Emerald Heights just after 4:30 p.m.

The restaurant was forced to stop delivering until the traffic cleared.

“Even in the snow we’ll have an all-wheel drive vehicle and limp along,” Schuyler said. “But very seldom do we not deliver.”

The scare also affected Tuesday’s Warrenton City Commission meeting. Commissioner Rick Newton, stuck in traffic, was unable to attend due to the road congestion.

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