Avalanches on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass could cause longer backups this season than in previous years

HYAK, Wash. -- Get ready for longer backups crossing Snoqualmie Pass this winter and next winter, too.

The Washington State Department of Transportation warns that avalanches could keep drivers at a standstill even longer than usual.

A snow shed once covered the eastbound lanes along a stretch of Interstate 90. When snow fell down the hillsides, at least two lanes would usually stay open. But the snow shed has been dismantled, and the snow has nowhere else to go -- neither will drivers.

Contractors are pushing ahead on the construction of two new bridges on the freeway. The goal is to elevate a portion of freeway near Hyak to allow avalanches to pass under the roadway, and not end up on the road. But until crews finish the job, drivers will be at the mercy of the weather.

“Delays will likely be longer because we’ll have all four lanes of the highway affected by the avalanches rather than just the two eastbound lanes,” said WSDOT avalanche forecaster, John Stimberis.

Drivers such as Misty Banchero cross the mountain pass several times a year for business. She’s planning to fly, not drive, to avoid delays for the next two winters.

“I’ve had some really bad experience over the last couple of years getting stuck in the pass for two or more hours,” she said, “I don’t want to do that again.”

WSDOT believes it has the plows and avalanche control teams ready for this season – but holiday travel could take even longer for drivers heading over the pass.

“Here comes Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’re going to have two lanes in each direction open,” said WSDOT spokesman Brian White. “Mother Nature may throw a curve ball in there and decide to dump a bunch of snow on us, but our Hyak maintenance crews are going to do their best to keep the road open.”

WSDOT will be closing the pass this Saturday and Sunday morning for tree removal. Drivers should plan for at least an hour of extra travel time.