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North Cascades Highway clearing starts March 26

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Date:  Thursday, March 22, 2012

Contact: Jeff Adamson WSDOT Communications 509-667-2815 (Wenatchee)

TWISP – Early Monday morning, a five-man maintenance crew and their collection of snow-clearing equipment will head west up State Route 20, past Mazama, to the winter closure point at the Early Winters Information Center. The annual trek marks the first day of work to clear the North Cascades Highway.

Washington State Department of Transportation crews will begin clearing the four feet of snow at the east side barricades, which have closed the road to traffic since Nov. 21. WSDOT’s annual reopening work is starting almost three weeks earlier than last year.

“Last year we opened in late May, and that mean visitors coming to Winthrop’s 49’er Days festival had to use Stevens Pass to get here,” said Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker. “We know that was hard on drivers, so we’re hoping that this year, we can get the highway open by the first weekend in May.”

Using a Kodiak snow blower, road grader and a scoop loader, east-side crews will clear the first eight miles of the highway – between the Early Winters Information Center and the Silver Star gate. More equipment will move in by April as crews work their way west toward Washington and Rainy passes.

West-side crews near Diablo can’t begin work yet due to heavy snowfall – nearly 10 and a-half feet at Rainy Pass as of today.

Clearing work on the North Cascades Highway can’t begin in earnest until the avalanche danger on Stevens Pass subsides and they can safely move the avalanche crew north to SR 20. Clearing work from the closure gates to the first avalanche zones, however, can begin without the avalanche crew.

During a scouting trip up the highway March 7, crews found snow up to 60 feet deep burying the road below the Liberty Bell Mountain avalanche zone.

Last year, late-season snow from the La Nina winter led to the second-latest reopening on May 25, since the highway first opened in 1972. Last fall, the 34 mile stretch of SR 20 between the Skagit and Methow valleys closed due to avalanches on Nov. 21.

For maps, pictures, frequently asked questions and a history of opening dates, visit the North Cascades Highway website

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