Big Four Mountain stands tall in the background on a sunny day Aug. 19, 2016, at the Big Four Ice Caves Picnic Area off the Mountain Loop Highway. (Daniella Beccaria / For The Herald)

Big Four Mountain stands tall in the background on a sunny day Aug. 19, 2016, at the Big Four Ice Caves Picnic Area off the Mountain Loop Highway. (Daniella Beccaria / For The Herald)

Is it time to pave the entire Mountain Loop Highway?

Research began a year ago and was slated to finish last month. A focus was the road’s gravel portion.

DARRINGTON — Research aimed at improving the Mountain Loop Highway is ready for public comment.

One of the topics is the long-running conversation about whether the remote highway should be paved.

There are two public meetings this week to discuss the Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study, on Wednesday in Granite Falls and on Thursday in Darrington.

The Federal Highway Administration is in charge of the research, and has focused on 40 miles of the mountain road. The results are supposed to determine if there needs to be any fixes and what they might look like.

The evaluation began in February 2018. This is the second set of public meetings. The first were held in the summer, and nearly 50 people joined. A third and final meeting is expected before the study is considered complete.

A main focus has been the gravel portion of the highway. It stretches 14 miles between Barlow Pass and White Chuck River.

Proponents say it would make it easier to access popular recreation sites, and that it could be an alternative route in case of an emergency. That issue generated a lot of discussion after the 2014 Oso mudslide, when the closure of Highway 530 forced many drivers to and from Darrington to detour through Skagit County.

Opponents are concerned about negative effects the work could have on the forest. They also note that parts of the drive are prone to natural hazards, such as slides, that could make construction and maintenance difficult.

The highway administration is working with Snohomish County and the U.S. Forest Service. Those two agencies in 2016 received a $500,000 grant to pay for the study.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192;; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

If you go

Learn more about the Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study: 6 p.m. Wednesday at Granite Falls Middle School, 405 N. Alder Ave.; 6 p.m. Thursday at the Darrington Community Center, 570 Sauk Ave.

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