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Dan_Miller

Update on North Cascades Highway Opening

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SR 20 - North Cascades Highway - 2007 Spring Opening

Monday, March 26

 

East side update:

We started clearing the North Cascades Highway and made great progress despite a few glitches. The weather cooperated; there was no new snow and it wasn't too cold.

 

The crew of five are running a giant V-Plow (to make the initial cut), a Kodiak snow blower (to widen what the V-Plow opened), an excavator (to deal with the downed trees they've found buried in the snow) and a road grader (removes ice and provides a drivable surface after the plow and blower are through.) The V-Plow made a 6-1/4 mile cut from Early Winters to about a mile shy of the east closure gate near Silver Star Creek. The blower was able to widen that to almost two lanes. They found 16 large trees buried in the snow on the roadway (12 in the first two miles - and the V-Plow blade looks a bit more, uh, cursive now than it did this morning).

 

Maintenance Superintendent Dean Hills says it's still working, it's just going to require some attention from one of mechanics with a welder tomorrow. We found snow about 28" deep at Early Winters and 40" where we are now.

 

Later this week, a second Kodiak snow blower, caterpillars and sno-cat will join the team to help clear snow under the Cutthroat Ridge avalanche zone.

 

Dean says they didn't see anything today that changes the timetable - mid May is still the likely opening.

 

West side update:

Recent heavy rains have been both a plus and a minus. The warmer temperatures and rain melted snow off the highway as far as East Creek Trail at milepost 145, fifteen miles past the closure gate. The unfortunate thing is that the rain caused a few problems. "We are spending our first week scooping mud and rocks off the highway," said Superintendent Ted Dempsey. "Recent heavy rains plugged three or four culverts and spilled mud and rocks across the highway between mileposts 145 and 148. Its going to take some time to move all that junk off the highway. It's 10 to 12 inches deep in places." We hope to start plowing and blowing snow off the highway by Monday, April 2.

 

 

 

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Check out the "2007 pictures" link. In addition to some sweet snow donuts, theres a "beautiful view of Silver Star Mountain". :crosseye:

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I know many are interested (as I certainly am) in this, so here it is. Fresh from the WADOT Hwy opening page:

 

SR 20 - North Cascades Highway - 2007 Spring Opening

Wednesday, April 18

 

We have made such good progress in the last week that we now plan to open the pass the first week in May. We are ahead of schedule. We have a single lane cut through the snow across the entire pass.

 

We will spend the next two weeks widening the snow banks and creating two lanes for drivers. We will also replace sections of guardrail and concrete barrier that were removed for the winter.

 

 

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Word is Hwy 20 is slated to open Thursday 04/26 at 2:00 PM

 

:moondance: :moondance: :moondance: :moondance: :moondance:

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Thanks Toast, for being so on top of that.

 

SR 20 - North Cascades Highway - 2007 Spring Opening

Tuesday, April 24

 

Look out fishing season, the pass will open this week. All those anglers who were hoping for the pass to open in time for fishing season will get their wish. Crews are ahead of schedule again and will open the pass Thursday, April 26th at 2 p.m.

 

 

 

 

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Just crossed the North Cascades today - the road is totally clear (we were on a motorcycle) but there is still a fair amount of snow at the top of Rainy & Washington passes. Lots of people skiing still - unfortunately mine were at home.

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Here's the current lowdown on WADOT's snow clearing activity on Hwy 20, The North Cascades Highway.

 

By the end of the work week (Thursday afternoon)on the east side, the 7 man crew from Twisp had cleared SR 20 from shoulder to shoulder to CR2 - that's the second avalanche chute in the Cutthroat Ridge zone at MP 167. It had taken all day to cut through the 15 to 20 feet of snow on the road, below CR1 at MP 166. The day wasn't without it's challenges. One of the snow blowers broke a reel (the spinning part on the front that throws the snow) and it was out of service until afternoon. Then, just an hour before their week would end, a second blower burned out a starter motor. Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker says the mechanics will have both ready for work Monday morning. Besides the blowers, loaders, graders and excavators they've been using, Monday will also bring some "paid help". Lloyd Logging crews will assist in the effort to cut the piles of snow in the avalanche zones down to "snow blower-sized bites" (which means cutting the snow pack down to about 7 feet deep above the pavement.) A big Bombardier snow cat with a blade (usually stationed at the Loup Loup ski bowl), rented D-6 Cat and Lloyd's huge D-8 will be welcome additions to the party! Becker says there hasn't been any significant new snow all week and crews made good progress Wednesday and Thursday, despite the equipment breakdowns. Last weekend's 10 inches of new snow is making the avalanche crew a little nervous. That snow refilled the avalanche starting zones and as temperatures warmed on Thursday afternoon, some slide activity was noted. "Too warm, too fast, is our biggest concern," said Becker, "If those chutes are full and unstable, we can't risk people's lives and I'll pull them off the job, if it's not safe to work there."

More photos coming...Jeff

 

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Today's (04/10/08) report on the snow clearing:

Good progress this week, despite some scary moments. Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker says they've got a path almost shoulder to shoulder to milepost 164 which is just below Spiral Gulch and the Liberty Bell Mountain avalanche zone. Don says the work has been slowed down by colder and much harder snowpack which is about 6-feet deep between the avalanche chutes. As a result of the heavy rains last fall, when these upper avalanche zones filled and dumped, they brought a lot of debris down with them. That means the avalanche zones are being cleared using front end loaders and excavators instead of the Kodiak snow blowers. "The blowers ignore guardrail and shoot the snow over the edge, but you can't do that with excavators and loaders - finding places to put the snow, not to mention the boulders and trees, is a challenge," says Becker.

The eastside D-8 and D-6 caterpillars are working ahead of the road clearing equipment, cutting those huge drifts below Liberty Bell 1 and 2 from 50 feet or more down to about ten feet so the snow blowers can finish the clearing down to the pavement. On Tuesday, work ended earlier than planned when the big Bombardier Snow Cat took a tumble above a Cutthroat Ridge avalanche chute and ended upside down. An immediate work zone safety meeting took place (after determining the operator only suffered a slight cut on the forehead and the vehicle had a couple broken lights - both were back working on Wednesday).

Here's what's up there right now, east and west: 4 Kodiak snow blowers, 3 Caterpillars (1 D-8, 2-D-6),2 snow cats, an excavator, front end loader, and grader.

Weather has been clear or overcast, but temperatures have remained about 40 which kept the avalanche chutes that still have the 10-inches of snow they got a week ago, stable. Becker says they're hoping the warm temperatures forecast for the next several days will either melt it in place or cause the snow to slide by Monday. "We're bringing all our equipment to a site below Cutthroat Ridge so nothing we'll need Monday morning will stranded on the wrong side of a big slide." Don also sent me some new photos which we're posting to the Flickr site, (but it may take a day). www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets/72157604271503716/

On Thursday morning, the eastside crew had some extra eyes observing the clearing effort. Wenatchee World reporter K.C. Mehaffey and a photographer came up to do a story. Should be in Friday's edition and the World does have a free on-line edition on their web site: http://wenatcheeworld.com/

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With one more day to go this week, the eastside crew is reporting good news and bad. The good news – they’ve managed to clear the highway, shoulder to shoulder all the way to Liberty Bell #2 (MP 165). Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker says he expects they’ll get through LB2 tomorrow. The Caterpillars, loaders and excavators are doing the clean up all the way to the pavement due to the amount of debris – mostly rocks – below the avalanche chutes. Becker says they’re going to try to cut a path through the Liberty Bell zone that the snow blowers can drive through, so they can get started on the other side of LB4, clearing the highway for the two miles to the Washington Pass summit.

 

On the Monday the crew was glad they’d moved all their equipment back below the Cutthroat Ridge avalanche chutes. Becker says that all the chutes above CR5 dumped snow on the road that was too deep to drive through, “We spent half of Monday just getting back to where we were last Thursday”.

 

Equipment breakdowns plagued the Westside crew this week – they’re down to one snow blower. While nothing got broken and no one was hurt, “We got a thrill, and thankfully that’s all we got,” said Becker, “We were moving an excavator up to Spiral Gulch and Liberty Bell when a slide broke loose today, covering the excavator and the highway with a pile of snow 10-feet deep and 70-feet wide. It’s a reminder of just how dangerous and unpredictable it can be up there,” he said. The temperature was between 46 and 50 degrees and avalanche control tech Mike Stanford says that’s what probably triggered the slide.

 

While the eastside crew has enjoyed (?) sunshine and warm temperatures, the Westside crew has been working under overcast, snowy, rainy and windy conditions. The forecast for the weekend is calling for as much as a foot of new snow, “So we could be right where we were last Monday, next Monday,” said Becker, “We could be cleaning up slides again, from Silver Star all the way to Liberty Bell.”

 

There are about a dozen new pictures that Don and Mike have sent of the work this week that are being posted on the WSDOT flickr site – check them out!

 

 

 

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Just a quick update from the weekend and Monday: We only got 2 inches of new snow, so crews found nothing to hold them up Monday morning. Most of the crew continues to work clearing the 50-foot piles of snow below Liberty Bell Mountain using caterpillars, loaders and excavators instead of snow blowers due to the rocks that came down the avalanche chutes, just east of Washington Pass. However, we were successful in ferrying the snow blowers past LB4 so they could start clearing the 1/2 mile from there to Washington Pass and beyond.

Avalanche Control Tech Mike Stanford took two photos showing blowers at work clearing to Washington Pass and two more showing a snow cat and a blower working about 2 miles west of Washington Pass (toward Rainy) below Whistler Mountain. They were just posted a few minutes ago.

 

Here's the WSDOT's NCH flickr site:

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More: Do note that Hwy 20 "may" open next weekend.

 

Hi all,

Avalanche Control Technician Mike Stanford took some video on Monday of the Bombardier snow cat at work below Whistler Mountain between Rainy and Washington passes. The Kodiak snow blowers can "eat" a pile of snow no more than 6 to 7 feet high. The caterpillars and snow cats are used to "shave" the drifts down to that depth.

The other thing the cats do is define the roadway edge so the snow blower driver can follow the path they've established and not run into the guardrail. (Clear forward visibility can be an issue for the snow blower drivers, especially if there's any wind, rain or snow to deal with...)

We got the video posted on YouTube and elsewhere and I thought you might want to see it.

 

Windows Media:

http://media.wsdot.wa.gov/asxgen/video/northcascades/SnowCat_NC2008.wmv

Real Player:

http://media.wsdot.wa.gov/ramgen/video/northcascades/SnowCat_NC2008.rm

YouTube:

 

A couple of other quick notes: I get this question occasionally and you may be interested in the answer as well. "How much does it cost to reopen the North Cascades every spring?" The budget for this year is $136,000. The price tag usually runs about $150,000 - but we're always optimistic that we can shave that a little. This year, we may go over a bit since we've had some equipment breakdowns and repairs that got a little pricey and it's taking six weeks to get it open, instead of four or five, like the last couple of openers.

The crews also got notice that WSDOT's Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, Dave Dye is paying them a visit next week. He wants to see the work first hand, thank the crews and emphasize to the public that the reopening continues to be a high priority for the department, despite the maintenance budget being $8 million + over due to the awful winter we're still enduring.

I'm expecting to get another update late Thursday which ought to tell us if we're still on schedule for an opening next Thursday or Friday. Stay tuned!

 

Jeff

 

Oh, Dustin just let me know he posted a link to the video on the North Cascades Web Page, too. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Traffic/Passes/NorthCascades/2008/

 

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Hi all,

There is no truth to the rumors that the North Cascades Highway will reopen this weekend! As of last night, the east and west crews are still about a mile apart between Bridge Creek and Whistler Mountain (that's about 3 miles east of Rainy Pass).

We're still on track to be able to reopen next Thursday morning, May 1st. Don Becker, the Twisp Maintenance Supervisor who is directing the reopening effort, says he has sent the rented equipment and contract workers back home. The caterpillar work is done and the roadway below the Liberty Bell Avalanche Zone is cleared, but there's still more "grooming", that is, clearing up to the guardrail and cutting pull out areas where we can. Getting the snow blowers through that zone earlier in the week so they could work on the highway from Washington toward Rainy makes the reopening by next Thursday, realistic.

The weather is still the determining factor. It was pretty amenable this week, but it's going to warm up until Sunday night when there's more snow and cold forecast through Tuesday. The warm could bring more snow from the avalanche chutes onto the roadway. New snow could come in heavier than expected and fill 'em up again. On the other hand - colder temps can also stabilize everything and make a Thursday morning opening, MORE likely, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, the crews will clean up anything that has come down and start clearing that last mile separating the east and west side crews - they're hoping to meet (a single cut) by Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

If you haven't checked the NCHighway web page in the last couple of days - there's a new write up from Dustin's trip up from the west side on Wednesday along with more photos on flickr and more video on YouTube. www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades/

Stay tuned!

Jeff

 

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Hi all,

Just got off the phone with Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker. The firm and official reopening time is Thursday morning at 8 a.m. Don says the east and west side crews met yesterday at about 11 a.m. Today and tomorrow will be spent widening the cuts guardrail to guardrail and cutting out some pull outs so you all will have a place to pull over and take a picture or two without complicating life for those behind you. The weather continues to be the determining factor. Don says they got rained on yesterday, but then it snowed. The forecast calls for more snow today and tomorrow with high temps only in the 30's. On Thursday that changes to no snow and warmer temps. He set the reopening at 8 a.m. which gives the crews a couple hours to "sweep" the entire highway from Silver Star to Diablo and plow or clean up any snow from overnight or any slough from avalanche chutes. "An 8 a.m. Thursday opening provides the safety margin we need so the first drivers over the passes make their trip successfully," said Becker. Both Dustin and I are going up to take some pictures and monitor the final day of clearing tomorrow, so there will be "fresh" information on the web page and more photos on flickr.

Jeff

 

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awesome - hope to be up there this weekend! anyone else gonna make the hajj?

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awesome - hope to be up there this weekend! anyone else gonna make the hajj?

 

I had plans up there next weekend, but the weather is looking unfriendly....

 

Ivan, could you talk to somebody about that for me? KTHXBAI

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