Snoqualmie Pass avalanche bridge construction completed

WSDOT hopes improvements will lessen road closures

KATIE SHADLER, EVERGREEN REPORTER

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Washington State Department of Transportation workers completed a second avalanche bridge on I-90 this past week in an 8-year effort to increase safety and traffic flow on Snoqualmie Pass.

The effort is part of phase one of a 15-mile project, stretching from Hyak to Easton.

Phase one covers the first five miles from Hyak to Keechelus Dam and focuses on stabilizing rock slopes, expanding chain-up and chain-off areas and widening I-90 by adding a lane on either side of the road in addition to the new avalanche bridges.

The $551 million project was funded by a 2005 gas tax. The first three miles were completed in 2013 and the remaining are scheduled to be complete in 2018.

Meagan Lott, WSDOT communications spokesperson, said the project originally came about because of constant road closures caused by avalanche threats.

The new bridges allow avalanches to pass harmlessly underneath, causing less closures for future winters. However, even with safer conditions, Washington State Trooper Brian Moore said students should still take caution when traveling during upcoming breaks.

He said there were 108 collisions on I-90 due to a snowstorm this past week. There is expected to be another storm this weekend as students head west for Thanksgiving break, he said.

The Washington State Patrol has made special multi-district emphasis patrols for Thanksgiving break, running from today to Nov. 26.

According to a news release, District 4 troopers in Spokane, Whitman and Adams counties and District 6 troopers in Grant and Kittitas counties will be focusing on speeding specifically including driving too fast for conditions, distracted/impaired driving and other collision-causing violations.

Motorists traveling to and from WSU will see an increased WSP presence on State Routes 26 & 195 as well as I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass.

Moore encourages travelers to pay close attention to posted speed limits and to be prepared for changing road and weather conditions, which can be found on WSDOT’s website and mobile app.

He also said students traveling across the state should make sure to prepare their vehicles for winter travel conditions and have a small emergency kit with water, food, blankets, tire chains and emergency flares.

WSP troopers also encourage drivers to make sure all the fluids in vehicles are full and the vehicle’s battery is in good working condition. Good all-season or snow tires are advised and may be required when traveling over the mountain passes, according to the release.

“Taking these preventative measures will pay off when traveling during times when weather conditions can change rapidly,” said Jeff Otis, WSP District 4 Commander Captain.

WSP public information officers will be updating drivers using the hastags #BeSafeCougs and #AppleCup2017.

With the increased emphasis, Moore said the added safety efforts every year are part of Target Zero, a 2010 strategic plan to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington State roadways to zero by the year 2030.

Three WSU students, one UI student and a WSU professor died in car crashes due to poor weather conditions over Thanksgiving and winter break last year.

In addition to phase one, phase two covers the next two miles of the corridor from Keechelus Dam to the Stampede Pass interchange. Project savings from Phase one provided $108 million to widen I-90, build and replace bridges, stabilize rock slopes and build the first wildlife overcrossing in the project corridor.

Construction started in 2015 and is scheduled to be complete in 2019.