HUNTSVILLE — Northern Utah's two alpine highways are now open.
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Zach Whitney said the Monte Cristo Highway, also known as State Route 39, is now open to all traffic for the spring and summer season. The highway is open from milepost 37, near the Ant Flat parking lot east of Huntsville, to milepost 56 near Woodruff in Rich County. The road between those two points will remain accessible until late fall. The remainder of this route is open year-round.
The region's other alpine pass, S.R. 65, known as the Big Mountain Highway, has also opened for the season. The road is open from milepost 3 (just north of the Emigration Canyon Road turnoff in Salt Lake County) to milepost 14 (near East Canyon Reservoir in Morgan County).
Whitney said the state initially considered delaying the opening of the two highways due to an excessive amount of snow.
"We didn't get a lot of late snow and Mother Nature cooperated to melt a lot of it," Whitney said. "So we opened them on schedule."
According to UDOT's traffic website, several other mountain highways that typically open sometime in the middle of May, remain closed.
The two heavily traveled Northern Utah alpine passes are often used by outdoor recreation enthusiasts but are closed during winter months because it would cost the state too much to keep it free of snow. The roads generally open in the spring, after winter weather conditions have faded.
According to Utah Transportation Commission documents, the state has considered keeping both roads open throughout the entire 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 the majority of the year. 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.
UDOT says motorists should be aware that winter-like storms can occur at the highest elevations on both roads well into the summer months, so they should prepare accordingly.