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Contact: Summer Derrey, WSDOT Communications (Chinook Pass), 509-577-1943
Contact: Harmony Haveman Weinberg, WSDOT Communications (Cayuse Pass), 206-440-4475
Contact: Tracy Swartout, Mount Rainier National Park, 360-569-6502
MOUNT RAINIER –Drivers are in for a rare springtime treat: after an unseasonably mild winter, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) maintenance crews have begun the annual work to clear Chinook Pass on State Route 410 and Cayuse Pass on State Route 123.
WSDOT tentatively plans to reopen Cayuse Pass Friday, March 27, with Chinook Pass set to reopen one week later on Friday, April 3. The scheduled reopening dates are historically early for both passes.
WSDOT maintenance crews will work to compress what would typically be 12 to 13 weeks to clear and repair the roadway into just two to three weeks.
"We are going to work hard to speed up the clearing process to get the passes open for drivers," said WSDOT Assistant Regional Manager of Maintenance Dave McCormick. "However, safety for our crews and the traveling public will remain our number one priority."
While the snowpack and avalanche hazard is less of a challenge for crews this year, the real issue comes from a winters worth of rock slides. Work to assess the mountainsides and repair the roadway damaged by rocks will be the biggest task. To complete the work safely on this narrow mountain road, work needs to be done prior to the reopening of the passes. Crews also need to remove rocks and debris from the ditches and culverts.
Although the passes are scheduled to reopen early, drivers should know that unpredictable spring storms and avalanche danger may prompt WSDOT or the National Park Service to suddenly close the highways with little or no warning.
WSDOT and the National Park Service collaborate each year to reopen both Cayuse and Chinook passes. This process has been a shared responsibility for decades. With the early reopening scheduled, drivers should be aware that NPS will have limited staff on the passes and travelers should prepare for long waits in the event an emergency response is needed.
Chinook Pass will reopen on the east side at Morse Creek, five miles east of the summit, and on the west side at the intersection of SR 410 and SR 123. Traffic will be reduced to a single lane just east of the Chinook summit due to highway damage from the previous winter. On Cayuse, traffic will be allowed on SR 410 at Crystal Mountain Boulevard and SR 123 near Stevens Canyon Road. Parking areas along the roadways will not be available until further in the season. For more information refer to the Mount Rainier website. There may also be limited use of the restroom facilities.
Recreational access is restricted prior to the highways reopening on SR 410 from Chinook Pass to the White River Y and on SR 123 on Cayuse down to the tunnel while crews operate heavy equipment on the roadway. The closure will also help crews expedite the work required to open the roads.Chinook and Cayuse Passes closed for the season Nov. 24, 2014.
###WSDOT keeps people, businesses and the economy moving by operating and improving the state's transportation systems. To learn more about what we're doing, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/news for pictures, videos, news and blogs. Real time traffic information is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic or by dialing 511.