In one of the fastest reopening efforts in the North Cascades Highway’s 42-year history, the state Department of Transportation crews will swing open the winter closure gates to traffic at 10 a.m. this Friday.
In this cool photo, Avalanche Specialist Alan Willard yells “FIRE!” as he shoots a howitzer. Crews are working to reduced avalanche hazard near SR 20 at Liberty Bell. The successful mission knocked down 8 feet of snow covering both lanes of the highway.
Crews began the clearing process on State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, just three weeks ago on March 16. Last year it took crews nearly six weeks to clear the highway, opening it May 8. In 2013, with a lighter snow pack, it opened April 16. There was only one year, 1977, when the highway never closed due to a drought. The earliest opening was March 10, 2005, but two weeks later snow closed the highway for another 10 days, reopening again on April 4.
“We all live up here and know it’s important for local businesses to have the highway open for Easter, the lowland fishing season and '49er Days Festival in Winthrop,” said Don Becker, WSDOT Maintenance Supervisor.
The mid-morning reopening allows the crew time to sweep the entire 37-mile winter closure zone for sand, rocks and debris, clear any snow from below avalanche chutes, and apply sand or deicer as needed.
During the past few days, crews saw a foot of snow fall at some locations and they performed avalanche control to clear the chutes so the highway can be safely opened.
For more information, including a history of opening and closing dates, maps, photos and progress reports on the 2015 opening, visit the North Cascades web page.