Monday, March 13, 2017

Safety first: The process of clearing the SR 20 snow slide east of Newhalem

By Andrea E. Petrich

UPDATE March 13, 12:25 p.m.
The eastbound lane of SR 20 is now open. It is reserved for emergency vehicles and to allow people isolated in and around Diablo since Friday to leave, including students on a field trip to the North Cascades Institute. Work to clear the westbound lane is scheduled to start tomorrow. It will take at least a couple of days before it is safe to reopen the highway to the public.

This morning our crews began work to clear the snow slide that has blocked the highway since late Thursday night, March 9. We are cautiously optimistic we can get one lane open today. Once reopened, traffic will be reserved for emergency vehicles and to allow people isolated in and around Diablo to leave.

It will take multiple days for crews to completely clear the 40 foot deep, 150-foot long slide that includes not only snow, but also trees and heavy rocks. Our crews will focus on getting the eastbound lane open first.

A snow slide blocks State Route 20 east of Newhalem

What took so long?
Safety is our top priority and while we know many people have been anxious to reunite with loved ones, we needed to make sure the area was safe for our crews as well as travelers in the area before we started to clear the slide. We have lost a member of the WSDOT family to an avalanche in the past, so we leave nothing to chance and make our decisions about crew and driver safety very seriously. Our avalanche techs evaluated the area throughout the weekend but the rising temperatures and rainfall continued to create unsafe conditions in this and other areas of SR 20. Moving heavy equipment in before these areas were stabilized would create a risk to our crews.

Crews are working to clear a snow slide that is blocking both directions of SR 20 at milepost 123.

Weather conditions quickly change in the mountains and travelers should always make sure they're prepared when heading into these areas. We work closely with agencies, like the National Weather Service, which forecasted high avalanche danger in the Cascades last week.

Through conversations with school districts and businesses affected by this slide, we knew everyone stuck on the other side had plenty of food and were safe.

Conditions have stabilized and crews are working clear one lane of SR 20 in east Skagit County.

The clearing plan
Our maintenance crews will work as safely and as quickly as they can to reopen one lane of the highway. First, they will use an excavator to remove trees, rocks and other debris. Next, they will use a snow blower to remove all the snow.

Thank you to everyone affected by this slide for your patience as we work to clear the slide.


Eric Sager said...

Great update, thank you for the information. Stay safe!

Sallie L said...

Great job Crews!!! Safety first!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comunication.Good job, stay safe!

Christie Fairchild said...

Thanks for all you do, but why do you never mention the folks who live and work year-round up at Ross Lake Resort whenever the gorge slides or closes? Only Diablo and the ELC...

WSDOT said...

Hello, Christie –
Thanks for your comment. We were in touch with the team at Ross Lake Resort during this closure. We work with all the groups, businesses and partner agencies we can to make sure everyone affected by road conditions know what they need to stay safe.

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