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With spring on its way, this highway could reopen soon

WSDOT crews explain how they clear North Cascades Highway

Each spring, Washington Department of Transportation crews begin clearing snow and debris from State Route 20 between Diablo and Mazama, more commonly known as the North Cascades Highway.
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Each spring, Washington Department of Transportation crews begin clearing snow and debris from State Route 20 between Diablo and Mazama, more commonly known as the North Cascades Highway.

As spring is on its way, maintenance crews from the Washington State Department of Transportation will begin clearing snow from North Cascades Highway next week in preparation for seasonal activities.

Crews will begin clearing the highway, which is State Route 20, from the Diablo, or western, side of the gate on Monday, and from the Mazama, or eastern side, on April 9. The two will eventually meet in the middle, according to a WSDOT press release.

The highway will be closed to everyone except the maintenance crews March 26 — March 29, due to heavy equipment being used in the area.

“Like most of our neighbors, we’re excited for the spring season and the fishing and other events that come with it,” said WSDOT Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker. “We want to get this stretch cleared as quickly as we safely can so everyone can start enjoying seasonal activities along the highway.”

The process of clearing the road usually takes four to six weeks, but can last longer depending on weather, equipment damage or crew issues, like the flu, according to WSDOT officials.

Officials said they’re not expecting an early opening this year.

The Washington State Department of Transportation clears the North Cascades Highway each spring to allow travelers access to the high road that links Whatcom and Skagit counties with Okanogan County. Here are five facts about the highway.

Once the snow is removed, the crews go back and repair pavement, replace guardrails and signs removed during the closure, clear rocks and debris and reshape the shoulders and ditches, officials said.

During a March 20 trip, officials found nine feet of snow near Rainy Pass and deep snow levels on Liberty Bell avalanche chutes. In other areas, there was less snow pack than typically found, the release said.

Last year crews began clearing the highway on April 10 and reopened it May 16. The latest opening was in 1974 when the highway reopened June 14.

You can follow the reopening process on the North Cascades Highway webpage, on the WSDOT Flickr account or through the WSDOT North and WSDOT East Twitter pages.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt
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