Work is expected to begin within the next month to reroute a portion of Mount Baker Highway away from the Nooksack River, to protect the highway from erosion.
The Nooksack rose to near flood stage on Friday, Feb. 6, further eroding a bank along a 1,000-foot stretch of the highway, west of Glacier Springs, that for years has been threatened by the river.
The eastbound lane of the highway along that section, which is between Maple Falls and Glacier, was closed on Sunday morning, Feb. 8. The river had encroached to within 10 feet of the white line on the eastbound lane, DOT spokesman Tom Pearce said.
“We think the existing road is stable right now, but we’re not going to take a chance with driver safety,” Pearce said.
Traffic signals on each end of the lane closure allow one direction of traffic at a time to go through. The lane closure and the signals will be in place until a new section of highway, built up to 100 feet farther from the river, is completed, Pearce said. The work should take three months to complete, he said.
DOT has signed agreements with two of three property owners whose land is in the path of the new highway alignment and continues talks with a third, Pearce said.
“Those discussions are going well,” he said.
The $3 million project to move the highway wasn’t to begin until this summer, but bank erosion over the past week and from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5, 2014, prompted DOT to start the project sooner. Federal emergency funding is covering the full cost of the project.
That stretch of Mount Baker Highway carries about 2,000 vehicles a day on weekdays, and 3,000 a day on weekends, during ski season. Although the road is reduced to one lane, it is open to ski traffic and locals with only “minor delays,” Pearce said.
The lights controlling the flow of single-lane traffic are timed to allow more time in the morning for traffic to flow east, toward the Mt. Baker Ski Area, and more time for westbound traffic leaving the ski area in the evening.
Details and updates on the realignment of Mount Baker Highway are at wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR542/GlacierSpringsRealignment.