TWISP — State crews working to open the North Cascades Highway continue to fight the weather.
“We had fresh snow again yesterday,” Jeff Adamson, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said Tuesday. “We’re dealing with a winter that just won’t go away.”
Now into the fourth week of what is typically an eight-week effort, the east side crew clocks in at the Twisp DOT shed every morning and starts a pickup parade to the work site.
Clearing efforts this week are nearing Washington Pass, which has about 9 ½ feet of snow and primed avalanche chutes. The west side crew, as of Monday, was about a mile from Rainy Pass, facing about 40 inches of snow on the level. The two crews hope to meet somewhere in the middle in the next four weeks. Once that happens, it will take another week or more to complete the widening and repairing the guardrails before it’s cleared for traffic
Both crews have faced continued snowy and rainy weather, mud, rocks and debris — and lots of snow, especially on the east side, Adamson said. “We’re getting night-time freezes, which we’ve gotten continuously since we started the reopening work, coupled with a sprinkling of new snow a couple times a week at least,” he said.
On Monday, the east side crew started tackling the Liberty Bell avalanche zone, which has 45 to 55 feet of snow in places. The avalanche danger required building safety containment troughs around each of the chutes.
“Building the containment troughs is a lot of extra work and still not foolproof,” Adamson said. “The forecast is calling for the kind of temperatures we usually have at this time of year, warming up to the 50s on Thursday. If that happens, we actually may do some avalanche control to bring down the snow to make it safe for the guys to operate.”
That could help speed up the work, but the opening could stretch into June.
“It’s the first of May and we are where we normally expect to be on the first of April,” Adamson said. “The hope now is to get open by Memorial Day. Otherwise the businesses up there will take a beating. So that’s our target, but it’s up to the crew and God.”
Typically, the crew has several targets for getting the pass open. The first is for the the lowland fishing season. Next up is Winthrop’s 49er Days, on Mother’s Day weekend this year.
“We won’t make that,” Adamson said. “That’s usually our target, if the weather cooperates and we have stable avalanche chutes. We got the word out as quick as we could. People coming from the west side will have to go over Stevens. It will add a couple hours to their trip.”
For updates on the North Cascades Highway progress, go to the WSDOT website, http://wwrld.us/highway20snow