OGDEN — The transportation department says Northern Utah’s two alpine highways definitely won’t open by Memorial Day, as is often the case, and it’s not clear when they’ll be made accessible.
Vic Saunders, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman, said State Route 39, also known as the Monte Cristo Highway, received such heavy snow over the last several months, it’s not yet known when it can be opened to travel for the summer.
The road remains closed between milepost 37 just east of Huntsville near Ant Flat Road, and at milepost 56, near Woodruff in Rich County.
Same goes for S.R. 65, the Big Mountain Highway, from milepost 3 near Emigration Canyon, to milepost 14, just south of the East Canyon Reservoir.
“The amount of snowfall this year was a blessing in terms of our water needs,” Saunders said. “But it’s kind of a curse when it comes to using these alpine highways. We’re not sure when they will open — maybe the middle of June. We’re just waiting on Mother Nature, but it definitely won’t be by Memorial Day.”
The highways are typically closed every November, as the cost of winter maintenance and motorist safety concerns make them essentially impossible to keep open during the winter and into early spring.
When open, the heavily traveled mountain passes are often used by outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
The state once considered keeping both roads open through the whole year, but a 2014 study found that costs associated with staff salaries, equipment, materials, fuel and roadway improvements outweighed potential benefits like travel time savings, community connections, recreational property access, safety and potential tax gains from development opportunities.
While the roads are generally open by mid-spring, sometimes heavy snow forces the state to keep them closed longer. In 2011, the Monte Cristo Highway didn’t open until mid-July as extremely high snow levels remained throughout a cool spring. That year, off-highway snow depths reached 25 feet in some locations.
Saunders said the state plans to send a drone up Monte Cristo to monitor some of the high elevation snowpack. He said UDOT will have a better idea of exactly when the road will open when this monitoring is finished.