To open or not to open?
That was the question for members of the Winthrop Town Council last week in an off-agenda discussion of whether the state should re-open the North Cascades Highway when snow clearing was completed on the state route.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) restarted its clearing work on April 13, after halting the work earlier. With little fanfare, WSDOT announced on Tuesday (May 12) that the highway was open for essential travel because Highway 20 is a critical corridor in case of natural disasters such as a forest fire.
North Cascades National Park remains closed.
The highway subject came up during the council comments portion of the meeting. Councilmember Ben Nelson said he supported keeping the road closed until Phase II of the state’s plan for gradually reopening the state’s economy is complete.
Phase III would allow restaurants, bars, indoor gyms, movie theaters, libraries, and museums to open on a limited basis, and would allow outdoor gatherings of 50 people or fewer.
Councilmember Bill McAdow said he would prefer to see the highway open, in that non-essential travel is still limited. He said he would not like to see “cherry-picking about who gets to the come the Methow.” McAdow said he would not expect a deluge of visitors if the highway opened.
Councilmember Joseph O’Donnell said he too supported reopening the highway because it carries a lot of commercial traffic that is important to the valley.
Nelson said he would be concerned about the town’s ability to enforce the state’s guidelines, and said it the town would be “irresponsible to open too quickly if we can’t accommodate visitors.”
Councilmember William Kilby said the highway should open “any time it’s safe for the state to open it.
“Let’s wait until the end of Phase I” of the state’s reopening plan, Mayor Sally Ranzau said, which is expected to be at the end of May.
Ranzau said she had urged WSDOT to make sure the highway is available as a safe route.
Editor’s note: the council’s discussion was rendered somewhat moot when WSDOT quietly opened the highway on Tuesday (May 12).