In a hard-fought victory over Mother Nature, road crews removed enough snow and ice to reopen a stretch of state Highway 27 north of Latah on Tuesday.
But the highway remained closed between Latah and Tekoa as crews continued clearing snowdrifts across southern Spokane County and northern Whitman County.
In some spots in recent days, the highway has been buried in more than 12 feet of snow, and crews have used giant tractor-mounted snowblowers to carve a path.Dan Haupt, a maintenance superintendent with the state Department of Transportation, said the winter road conditions are the worst he’s seen in 28 years on the job.
“Typically, we’ll get this once or twice through the winter. But this year it’s been one after another after another after another,” Haupt said, referring to the snowdrifts.
The most challenging area, he said, is in the shadow of Tekoa Mountain, where a persistent wind has carried massive amounts of snow across the highway.
“This is just 14 miles of road that happens to be the worst 14 miles of road we have, and trying to keep it open has been tough,” Haupt said.
One lane of Highway 27 was open Tuesday for emergency vehicles and a few residents to travel from Latah to Tekoa, but through traffic was still prohibited.
“We’ll go through, find the center of the road and work our way out to get it back to two lanes,” Haupt said.
He said most locals have been patient and understanding, but he urged drivers to abide by “road closed” signs, noting one man was recently trapped for hours after getting his car stuck on a closed section of the highway. The man might have been trapped overnight – or worse – if DOT crews hadn’t found him, Haupt said.
“If you see the sign, don’t go around it,” he said.
Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, a spokeswoman for Spokane County’s public works department, said county road crews have been working with 10 private contractors with bulldozers because regular snowplows were insufficient.
“The drifting has just been a nightmare,” she said. “The snow has settled and hardened to the point that our regular snow removal equipment is no longer effective, and we have to use bulldozers.”
On Tuesday evening, the county announced it was closing 5 miles of Cheney-Plaza Road between Wells Road and Old Highway 195 because of water and ice.
But Wheatley-Billeter said road crews weren’t too concerned about additional snow in this week’s forecast.
“We’re really not concerned about the snow that’s coming in,” she said. “It’s not going to be that substantial.”
Flooding also shouldn’t be a problem, as long as temperatures continue to rise gradually, she said.
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