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Thursday, June 30, 2011
Dustin Terpening, WSDOT communications, 360-757-5997 (Burlington)
Deep snow will keep upper portion of road closed all summer
MOUNT BAKER – Snow 50 feet deep still buries the road (State Route 542) to Artist Point at Mount Baker and will keep the upper portion of the road closed all summer.
In less than ideal conditions, Washington State Department of Transportation crews trekked up the mountainside in a snowcat to measure snow depths on Wednesday, June 29. It was windy, cold, raining and socked in during the scouting trip.
“We found snow 50-plus feet deep near the upper parking lot,” said Theo Donk, WSDOT maintenance supervisor. “This is the deepest snow I’ve seen since the world-record year 1999, when the highway didn’t open for the summer.”
WSDOT will forgo clearing the last two miles of snow-covered highway to the upper parking lot because the snow is simply too deep and would take too long to clear. The work would tie up maintenance crews for the next two months when they could be working on other state priorities like fixing potholes, signs and guardrail.
“The restroom in the upper parking lot is nowhere to be seen,” Donk said. “Normally the roof is peeking through the snow at this time. We couldn’t even reach it with a snow-depth pole. It’s buried deep.”
Crews will, however, clear a path for drivers up to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, opening about a mile of roadway and the lower parking lot. The work will begin Tuesday, July 5, and should take about two weeks to complete.
“We just haven’t had the kind of warm spring weather we need to get a good melt up there,” said Donk. “It’s really tough to move that much snow without a little help from the sun. And the extended forecast looks to be more of the same.”
The road to Artist Point is 2.7 miles long and more than 5,000 feet above sea level, and is typically buried under snow and closed October through June. In recent years, it has usually opened in July. As always, the opening and closing of the road is heavily dependent on weather and snow conditions.
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