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State to reopen scenic McKenzie Pass Highway.

Byline: The Register-Guard

McKENZIE BRIDGE - At long last, the McKenzie Pass Highway, also known as Oregon 242, will reopen to travelers on foot, bike or car this Saturday.

The Oregon Department of Transportation closed the snow gates on the highway Nov. 1, 2007. After a winter of epic snows, then a bridge replacement project, ODOT will reopen the eastern and western snow gates on the popular scenic byway two weeks ahead of schedule but later than normal winter closures.

Transportation department workers will swing the gates open at 7 a.m. Saturday.

The source of the extended closure is an $800,000 bridge replacement project, the beginning of which was delayed until June because of a lingering, heavy snowpack. Officials originally hoped to have the bridges completed and the highway reopened for traffic by Sept. 1, but efforts by the contractor will allow them to reopen the highway two weeks ahead of schedule.

In addition to replacing a bridge, other crews cleared potentially dangerous trees on the pass' eastern slope. That work has been suspended until late fall.

The snowpack also hampered access from the snow gate near Sisters, delaying the tree removal project. That gate, nine miles west of Sisters, has since been opened intermittently on weekends since July 14 to bicycles and pedestrians, allowing access from the east to the Obsidian Trailhead.

The lower western snow gate at White Branch was opened June 21 to allow public access to Proxy Falls, Alder Springs Campground and other Willamette National Forest attractions.

Oregon 242 is the original alignment of the McKenzie Highway between Springfield and Sisters, and is open only during the summer. The longest open period occurred in 1934 when the pass was open for 250 days. The earliest open date was March 21, 1934, and the latest (other than construction- related delays in 2007 and 2008) was July 29, 1999. The shortest open period was 90 days in 1999.

Built in the mid-1930s, the highway became a seasonal scenic highway in the 1960s with the completion of the Clear Lake-Belknap Springs section of Highway 126.

Even during its tenure as the main route between the southern Willamette Valley and Central Oregon, the narrow, twisting roadway and high elevation, topping out at 5,325 feet, made the highway too difficult to maintain and keep clear during the winter months.
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Title Annotation:Transportation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 14, 2008
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