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Lighter snowfall this past winter helped crews reopen the North Cascades Highway today, April 16, almost a month earlier than last year.
Washington State Department of Transportation crews and drivers celebrated at 1 p.m. today, as both east and west side gates swung open. The highway reopened well in advance of the start of the lowland fishing season and the annual 49'er Days festival in Winthrop.
WSDOT crews began the clearing process on State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, on March 25, a day earlier than last year. On average, it takes four to six weeks for crews to clear the highway, but this year they accomplished it in three weeks. Crews cleared snow as deep as 35 feet over the roadway; last year, it was double the amount.
"We all live up here and know how great it will be for local businesses to have the highway open earlier this year," said Don Becker, WSDOT Twisp Maintenance Supervisor.
The afternoon reopening allows crews time to "sweep" the entire 37-mile winter closure zone for sand, rocks and debris, clear snow from below a couple of avalanche chutes and apply any sand or deicer that's needed.
Under partly cloudy skies, the first drivers on the North Cascades Highway today found the road conditions bare and dry or bare and wet. The temperature at the west gate was 49 degrees, and 39 degrees at the east gate.
The highway was closed Nov. 20, 2012, from milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam on the west side of Rainy Pass, to milepost 171, nine miles west of Mazama.
The latest reopening for the highway was recorded on June 14, 1974. The earliest opening ever was March 10, 2005. In 1980, four years after the highway first opened, it remained open all winter due to a drought year.
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