SR 20 North Cascades Hwy. Could Open In 2-3 Weeks
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is clearing SR 20 North Cascades Highway, with tentative plans to reopen the roadway from its seasonal closure in May.
The east side clearing crew reached the summit of Washington Pass this week and is heading into the home stretch of its work.
WSDOT reports snow levels on the roadway are about 6 ft. deep, which is just the right depth for the snow blower to make good time.
There are about 14 miles and one more avalanche path near Whistler Mountain before crews meet the west side clearing point.
Department of Transportation spokesperson Lauren Loebsack says the road will remain closed even after all the clearing is done.
"We have a few more weeks because after the road is cleared, we need to go back and make repairs to guard rails, signage and pavement that have been damaged due to debris and the snow slides over the winter," said Loebsack.
WSDOT estimates the road will be closed for 2-3 more weeks.
A 44-mile stretch of the highway closes annually during the winter months from the Ross Dam Trailhead to Early Winters due to heavy snow and persistent avalanche risks.
Loebsack says crews have performed avalanche control procedures and are still keeping an eye on snow levels at higher elevations above the roadway.
"That's something they're continuing to keep their eyes on with mostly warm weather in the coming weeks that should resolve itself naturally," Loebsack said. "But they might need to make a decision to do some more avalanche control, depending on what mother nature might deliver if there's any more winter weather."
WSDOT is acknowledging that many people have made it a tradition to drive the North Cascades Highway on opening day.
The agency is advising anyone who has never made the trip early in the season to take note that when the route first opens, most National Parks and Forest Service facilities are closed to the public until later in the spring.
There also may still be narrow roadway shoulders with snowpack, few pull outs or turn arounds, and limited services.
The passes have been known to get snow and freezing rain late into spring, so drivers are advised to be prepared for potential winter driving conditions and to confirm their destination is open and available to the public.
The North Cascades Highway is a major gateway for the tourist destinations of Winthrop and Mazama east of the Cascades, and is also an important route for freight such as lumber.