[3/27/18] Clearing Of North Cascades Highway To Begin This Week

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Following an assessment by Washington State Department of Transportation staff last week, west side DOT crews are scheduled to begin the spring effort to reopen State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway) this week- but east side crews won’t begin clearing the highway for another couple weeks.

The west side crews, using a snow blower attachment mounted on a front end loader, will begin at the Diablo Gates, where there is less than a foot of snow.

The east side crews will begin clearing at Silver Star Gate on Monday, April 9th.

Once the first 15 miles of roadway is clear, the crew goes back and repairs pavement damage, replaces guardrail and signs removed during the closure, they will clear rocks and debris, and then shape the shoulders and ditches.

Once that work is complete, in about three weeks, crews will open a travel lane, clearing to Rainy Pass and beyond.

Work from the east side begins later due to full avalanche shoots. Warming temperatures over the next few weeks are expected to cause natural avalanche slides clearing many of those shoots.

Last Monday morning, March 19- the North Central Region Avalanche Crew and Area 3 Twisp Maintenance Management assessed the conditions of SR 20 and the avalanche potential from Silver Star Gate to Rainy Pass.

Depth measurements were taken and snow caves were dug to evaluate the stability of the layers of snow in the avalanche shoots.

Experience has taught that predicting an opening date is impossible, as so many elements can and have caused days and weeks of delays.

Things such as weather that doesn’t match the forecast, serious equipment damage, or sometimes equipment being reassigned following heavy snow fall on other cross state passes.

Last year, the clearing work began April 10 and the reopening wasn’t until May 16- well passed the fishing season opener and Winthrop’s 49er Days Festival.

Most years, warmer temperatures allow the clearing to begin before the end of March.

But, based on the forecast, don’t expect an early opening this year.

Once the clearing work begins, the highway is closed to congregationalists Monday through Thursday- but you can snowshoe, ski, snowmobile and bicycle beyond the gates Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

You can follow the DOT’s progress on reopening SR 20, North Cascades Highway, online at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades.