New bridges should keep Snoqualmie Pass open more this winter

New bridges on Snoqualmie Pass are designed to let avalanches flower underneath them. That ought to mean fewer pass closures this winter. (Photo: KOMO News)

SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. -- Years of construction are paying off here with the completion of two bridges that will let avalanches flow beneath them.

That ought to mean fewer closures this winter for avalanche control, says John Stimberis, avalanche forecast supervisor at the Washington Transportation Department.

"Overall with avalanche bridges, it increases safety and decreases the amount of avalanche work that we do. So less closures from avalanche control." he said.

Last winter, the first of the two avalanche bridges was finished. That gave the benefit of better safety and fewer closures, but all traffic was routed onto one bridge. This winter, both bridges are open.

"Two lanes eastbound and three lanes westbound -- so that also helps relieve congestion by providing more travel lanes," Stimberis said.

Last year, the Transportation Department monitored the area where the old snow shed used to be. Stimberis says there were at least 18 avalanches there that reached the old highway surface.

"And by my estimate, close to 20 years experience here, we would have done control work about 28 times just in that area."

The improvements mean 4,000 vehicles an hour of personal vehicles and commerce can make it through.

There will still be occasions when crews will have to control avalanches on the west side of the pass. But Stimberis says those are less frequent now and that more closures are for road conditions and spinouts.

That all sounds like good news to Don Fletcher, who goes across the pass frequently to visit family

"It's very pleasant to have it open up quicker," he said.

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