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DOT: North Cascades Highway may be cleared by early May

Washington Department of Transportation crews begin a second day of work to reopen the North Cascades Highway at the Whatcom/Skagit county line, 11 miles from Diablo Gate, on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.
Washington Department of Transportation crews begin a second day of work to reopen the North Cascades Highway at the Whatcom/Skagit county line, 11 miles from Diablo Gate, on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Crews with the Washington Department of Transportation have begun clearing the North Cascades Highway, a key route for travelers from eastern Whatcom County to central Washington.

Despite some heavy late season snowfall, DOT officials said they are optimistic that the highway, also known as Highway 20, could be open by early May.

"Last year it took us less than 4 weeks to clear the highway, but this year there's twice as much snow at the summit," said Avalanche Control Supervisor Mike Stanford. "It's likely to take closer to the usual six weeks to reopen this year." On a scouting expedition in early March, snow at the summit of Washington Pass measured almost 10 feet, double the depth of last year. Snow on the highway below the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes averaged 35 feet deep. Crews observed conditions similar to those they encountered in 2011 when it took approximately six weeks to clear and reopen the highway.

Crews began work on the west side of the highway April 1 by clearing snow that was as much as 20 feet deep in some places. As of April 7, the snowpack at Washington Pass had melted from 10 feet deep to about 7 feet. Workers also are getting avalanche refresher training.

DOT closed the highway for the winter on Dec. 3, 2013. The highway typically reopens between mid-April and early May.

To monitor the progress on the clearing, go to wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades.

Photos of the work are available at the DOT's Flickr page, flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets. Click on the photo set for "SR20, North Cascades Highway."

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