It'll Take More than Shovels to Clear North Cascades Highway

By Tom Bacon

If you think clearing five inches of snow from your driveway is a chore, consider moving 10 feet of snow from a scenic Washington highway. Or tackle 35-feet of snow in an avalanche chute. That's the job facing highway department crews working on the North Cascades Highway.

They'll begin the herculean effort this year on March 31st. Optimistically, they'll have the winding highway open again some time in early May - roughly six weeks to clear about 37 miles of highway, from near Mazama on the east slopes of the Cascades to about Diablo on the west side.

On a snow cat tour last week, crews found about 10 feet of snow on average at the Washington Pass summit, and up to 35 feet smothering the road below the Liberty Bell mountain avalanche chutes.
Until ferocious storms lashed the Cascades in the past couple of weeks, highway engineers had their fingers crossed for a fairly easy snow removal job this spring. But it was not to be.

They said conditions this year, given the late-season storms, are similar to the problems they encountered in 2011 when it took six weeks to re-open the highway. They'll attack the snow from both sides of the mountain range, using front-end loaders, bulldozers and big rotary snow blowers.
When the road crews finally scrape away the snow down to the pavement, the highway resembles a bobsled run with high banks of snow on each side.
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