GENERAL VALLEY NEWS
Beautiful North Cascades Highway Opens May 16
May 12, 2017
Warmer weather helped crews speed up the initial June estimate
State snowblower blowing snow below Cutthroat Ridge avalanche chute 8 on SR 20 in 2014 . WSDOT photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(DIABLO) – The record rain and snow that pounded the state this year and delayed the reopening of State Route 20/North Cascades Highway is now a thing of the past and the warmer temperatures, warm rain and sun that has arrived should allow crews to reopen the scenic highway well ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, according to a new statement from the Wash. State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT).
With longer days and better weather, WSDOT crews turned eight weeks of work into less than six. They are now finishing final repairs and planning to open our state's arguably most gorgeous mountain highway for the summer at 11 am Tuesday May 16.
“Not being able to start clearing until April 10 meant we couldn’t be open for the beginning of fishing season or Winthrop’s ‘49er Days Festival which we never like to happen,” said Don Becker, WSDOT’s maintenance supervisor in Twisp. “Crews always had a Memorial Day weekend opening as a goal, despite the estimates that told us June. Luckily, in the end, the weather was finally on our side.”
The warm weather helped melt some of the snow, but those conditions also increased the avalanche risk. Work crews used spotters and safety ditches in the snow to keep themselves protected during clearing.
Some chutes still have snow, but rain over the next few days is expected to cause them to slide and get cleaned up before the highway opens.
State Route 20 is the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington state and is commonly referred to as the North Cascades Highway. This Scenic Byway offers travelers a wide array of beautiful vistas and is part of the Cascade Loop , a 400-mile driving tour through the Cascades.
The clearing process
WSDOT crews started clearing back on Monday, April 10. Working from both sides, crews not only clear snow, they also repair pavement, signs and guardrails plus clear culverts and ditches of debris to ensure the highway is safe before it reopens.
This year’s reopening is the third latest. You'd have to go back to June 14, 1974 to find the only time crews weren’t able to get this stretch open before the end of May.
Open for driving and recreation
Once the SR 20/North Cascade Highway gates open at milepost 134 and 171, the highway will remain open through the summer and into fall. Crews will close it when conditions in avalanche chutes become unsafe, usually a week or so before or after Thanksgiving.
When the highway is closed; skiers, backpackers, snowmobilers and other adventurers are welcome to use the closed stretch at their own risk. When crews are working on clearing, the area is closed Monday through Thursday.