WA officials hope to reopen Snoqualmie Pass early Saturday
Associated Press Writer
Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, closed for most of the week by heavy snowfall and avalanche danger, may reopen Saturday morning, a state Transportation Department official said Friday night.
The pass could open between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Saturday "if all goes well," said Don Whitehouse, Transportation Department southcentral regional administrator.
"I'm stressing the 'if all goes well' part," he added, "because we expect more snow to fall up here overnight, and we still have a lot of work to do to remove the snow that fell onto the roadway from the avalanche control work."
Still, Whitehouse termed Friday's avalanche control efforts "tremendously successful."
On Thursday, "our avalanche risk on the pass was extreme," he said. "After today's efforts, it has been reduced to a low-to-moderate risk at the roadway level."
The state's main east-west traffic route across the Cascade Mountains has been closed for all but six hours since Tuesday morning.
On Friday, crews cleared 30 avalanche paths by detonating 365 pounds of explosives, Whitehouse said.
Since the series of storms began last Sunday, Transportation Department avalanche control experts, working with avalanche specialists from two nearby ski areas, have used a total of 1,500 pounds of explosives to cause avalanches. Additional snow blowers from other areas of the state have been brought in to help remove the dislodged snow.
The pass closure is the longest since a storm shut down traffic over the pass for about 84 hours between Dec. 28, 1996, and Jan. 2, 1997, DOT spokeswoman Alice Fiman said.
More than 5 feet of snow has fallen on the pass 50 miles east of Seattle in the series of storms. The Transportation Department said Friday morning that 19 inches had fallen at the pass in the previous 24 hours, and the National Weather Service forecast up to 20 inches more by early Saturday.
Snow depth on 3,022-foot-high Snoqualmie Pass was at 130 inches, or 165 percent of the average Feb. 1 seasonal amount, weather service meteorologist Dennis D'Amico in Seattle said earlier Friday.
The extreme weather closed a 70-mile stretch of I-90 from North Bend east across the mountains to Ellensburg.
To the north, Stevens Pass was closed Friday for several hours by multiple collisions caused by snow and ice. It reopened at midday, with chains required on all vehicles except those with four-wheel drive. The state's remaining winter route across the Washington Cascades, White Pass in south-central Washington, remained open with traction tires required on cars and chains on trucks.
Windblown snow kept many roads and schools closed Friday in Eastern Washington, including Washington State University in Pullman and the University of Idaho in nearby Moscow.
On Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency for 15 counties, mostly in snowbound Eastern Washington, allowing local governments and the Transportation Department to bypass normal bidding requirements to quickly hire companies to help with snow removal.
The heavy snow delighted operators of mountain ski resorts, even if customers couldn't reach the slopes. At The Summit at Snoqualmie, normally the state's busiest resort, the hills were quiet and buried under rare powder snow, but marketing director Guy Lawrence said the loss of business was "a hiccup so far" in an otherwise lucrative winter.
Other resorts still reachable in Washington's mountains reported a surge in business, both because of Snoqualmie's closure and the excellent conditions.
Still, the long shutdown of I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass has disrupted the state's economy, Gregoire and other officials said. Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said 7,000 trucks cross the pass each day, about one quarter of total traffic on the pass.
"We know these truckers have been waiting," Whitehouse said earlier. "We know what this is doing to the economy."
State officials had no estimate on how much the pass closure might be costing the state each day. Gregoire said her emergency declaration was largely based on the potential economic losses.
After a 28-hour closure, Snoqualmie Pass was reopened for just six hours Wednesday before another slide hit two cars and the freeway was closed again. No one was injured.
A new setback came early Friday when an avalanche about 150 feet wide buried the eastbound lanes, Transportation Department spokeswoman Erin Bogenschutz said.
For trucker Barry Wagner, 60, who has been stuck at a truck stop near North Bend since Monday, boredom was the big enemy. Wagner has been trying to haul a cryogenic tank from Seattle to Pennsylvania.
Wagner told The Seattle Times that his daily routine has been: "Sit in my truck, come into the restaurant to eat, watch a little TV, watch a movie, talk on the radio."
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