GRANITE FALLS, Wash. – Should the Mountain Loop Highway be paved? That’s the question posed by a federal feasibility study.
The stretch of roadway linking the town of Darrington to Granite Falls is seen as a major source of tourism dollars for the two communities.
But a significant section of the highway is narrow, unpaved and in some places packed with potholes.
Feds are studying what it would take to improve outdoor recreation and first responder access throughout the entirety of the road between the two towns.
Also, an approximately 14-mile stretch past Barlow Pass and heading towards Darrington is not paved.
The survey looks to find what it would cost to make either minor improvements or pave the entire gravel portion.
Four options are cited by the study: ranging from maintaining the highway as it is to paving and grading the highway to allow a maximum speed of 40-miles-per hour.
High-end estimates for the last option runs as high as $70 million.
While improving access to tourism could be a boost for local communities, minimizing the impact to endangered or threatened species is also a concern, cites the study.
The highway was also used as an alternative route after the deadly Oso slide. The study looks to see how improvements could improve access for first responders.
But some believe the highway should be kept as it is today.
“If you pave it, (people) from the Seattle area are going to come out here,” said camper Mark Ledeburh. “I kind of want it to remain a secret.”
The public is invited to a pair of open houses in both Darrington and Granite Falls this week to review four different options, their associated costs and learn timelines for each possibility.
Wednesday the open house happens at the Granite Falls Middle School, and Thursday the Darrington open house will happen at the town’s community center. Both events open at 5:30 p.m.
More information, including maps and images, can be found at this website.