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North Cascades Highway closed until spring because of avalanche risk

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Washington State Route 20 in the North Cascades.

BURLINGTON, Wash. – The North Cascades Highway section of State Route 20 is now closed until next spring, the Washington Department of Transportation announced Monday.

WSDOT said it has been monitoring the road and the avalanche chutes above the highway. WSDOT maintenance and avalanche technicians temporarily closed the highway last Friday due to weekend snow forecasts.

Conditions were re-evaluated Monday and more avalanche chutes are full and not stable – especially near the  Liberty Bell Mountain area – causing crews to close the road for the season, WSDOT said.

“While there hasn’t been a ton of snow on the road, it’s continued building at higher elevations in the chutes,” said Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker. “The potential avalanche risk makes reopening unsafe for our crews and drivers.”

WSDOT said its crews work hard to keep this road open as long as possible each season, because many travelers use this route over Thanksgiving weekend as a faster route across the northern part of the state. Safety is always first priority, however, WSDOT said, and guided the decision to make the closure permanent.

The 37-mile-long winter closure zone begins 14 miles east of Newhalem at milepost 134 on the west side of Rainy Pass and ends 22 miles west of Winthrop at milepost 171 east of Washington Pass. The earliest closure recorded was Nov. 2, 2005.