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Tioga Pass Road likely to open early May

April 17, 2014

Tioga Pass Road this spring, late march. In a normal or wet winter, the road is often several feet deep in snow near this entrance gate west of Lee Vining. This year, however, the road might open as early as early May, authorities say. Photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

The Tioga Pass Road could open as early as the first or second week of May and officials began plowing the road this week, according to authorities.

“I heard they started plowing today (Tuesday, April 15) and that the work should go quickly, unless there is a large spring season storm,” said Mono County’s Interim Public Works Director Jeff Walters. “The water content in the snow up there is very low; I’m sure Olmsted Point is mostly exposed granite at this time.”

The road, also known as S.R. 120 West, links Lee Vining to Crane Flat via Yosemite National Park and is considered to be one of the Eastern Sierra’s greatest tourism assets as it provides local access to one of the most popular national parks in the world.

It is normally plowed each spring as soon as avalanche danger diminishes. The agencies that have some ownership or interest in opening the road are Caltrans, the park, Mono County, and even, in extremely wet springs when the snowpack at the top of the pass has been as much as 10 feet deep, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, among other entities.

Typically, agencies on both sides of the pass begin plowing toward each other, meeting somewhere in the middle­­—a process that can take weeks or longer if the snow is deep. The Olmsted Point area noted by Walters is considered to be one of the most difficult sections due to both its high elevation and avalanche danger, and is the very last place to be plowed.

This dry winter, however, has created a far different story and Walters told the Mono County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that although he cannot promise the county an exact opening date, the park’s superintendant told him the road would be open by Memorial Day at the very latest.

If conditions don’t change, he said it would be most likely between May 2 and May 9.

The road opened May 11 last year, another drought winter.

Just in case the Sierra receives snow in the next few weeks, however, he also asked the board to authorize funds and staff to help plow the road, should it be needed this spring.

The board voted in favor of the request.

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