Earliest opening since 2005, in time for Easter weekend
By Ann McCreary
In good news for Methow Valley tourism, the North Cascades Highway is expected to open to traffic this weekend.
“The plan is that Friday morning (April 3) at 10 a.m., we’re going to kick the gates open,” said Don Becker of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). On the east side of the pass, the Silver Star gate about 7 miles west of Mazama will be opened.
“It’s been by far the easiest opening,” said Becker, who has two decades of experience clearing the North Cascades Highway.
Highway crews began working from the east side just about two weeks ago, on March 16. The low snowpack, lack of large avalanches and favorable weather contributed to the earliest opening of the highway since 2005.
Highway crews working from the east and west sides met at about noon on Monday (March 30) at Rainy Pass, and have been working to clean and widen the roadway in either direction.
Avalanche crews armed with a howitzer shot down slides on the three Liberty Bell chutes at Washington Pass on Monday, Becker said.
The slide brought down at LB3, the largest avalanche chute, was 8 or 9 feet deep and 40 feet wide, but was easily cleared, he said.
“We got a significant amount of snow out of them. We feel comfortable with the stabilization that’s there,” Becker said.
Transportation crews were working to clean up a mudslide that flowed over the top of the snow some time this spring about a mile past Rainy Pass. Becker said he expected crews to have that mess mopped up by Wednesday (April 1).
WSDOT crews on the west side worked most of the winter to clear a large rock slide about 8 miles east of the Diablo Gate, where the road is closed each winter. They finished the work in mid-March, just in time to begin removing snow.
Weather forecasts are calling for possible snow showers for the next few days with the snow levels at 3,000-3,500 feet, but no significant accumulation, Becker said.
“We wanted to get the highway open for Easter weekend. It looks like we’re going to do it,” Becker said.