I-90 reopens; long delays possible

SPOKANE — I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, closed for most of the week by heavy snowfall and avalanche danger, reopened this morning after crews worked through the night to clear avalanche paths.

Transportation officials believe the road is safe from avalanches, for now. Still, drivers can expect snow and ice across all lanes of I-90 Saturday near the pass. Chains are required for all vehicles.

Don Whitehouse, Transportation Department south-central regional administrator, 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.”

Before the pass reopened today, the state’s main east-west traffic route across the Cascade Range had been closed for all but six hours Tuesday.

On Friday, crews cleared 30 avalanche paths by detonating 365 pounds of explosives, Whitehouse said.

Since the series of storms began last Sunday, avalanche control experts 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 was 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 during the 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 today.

Snow depth on 3,022-foot-high Snoqualmie Pass was 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. 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.

The long shutdown of I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass 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 closures might have cost the state each day.

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