By Bill Sheets, The Herald
For someone who wants to drive from Darrington to Everett, each of the two available options takes about two hours.
One of them, however, is probably a lot easier on the car. There also are places to eat, talk on the phone and go to the bathroom.
Since the disastrous March 22 landslide that blocked Highway 530 east of Oso, most drivers have been using Highway 20 to get from Darrington to the I-5 corridor. This is the route recommended by the state Department of Transportation.
Four days after the slide, to create another option for drivers, the Mountain Loop Highway from Granite Falls to Darrington was opened for the season. The road is administered by Snohomish County.
Part of the Mountain Loop stretch was built on the former right-of-way of the Everett and Monte Cristo Railway, built in 1892 to haul gold copper, lead, and iron ores to smelters in Everett, according to HistoryLink.org. The tracks of the railroad were removed in 1932.
One section of the Mountain Loop Highway is a 14-mile, one-lane, gravel logging road. This stretch receives heavy snow and is closed every winter. The road was entirely shut down for four years, from 2003 to 2007, after it washed out in several places during a storm.
After the Oso slide, the state supplied snowblowers to open the road early for the year, county officials said.
The drive of 54 miles from Darrington to Granite Falls takes an hour and 40 minutes, according to the state. Add 20-plus minutes to Everett and it’s a little over two hours.
“Four-wheel drive or high-clearance vehicles are strongly recommended,” according to a description of the road on a U.S. Forest Service website. It has a 5-ton weight limit and is considered unsuitable for commercial trucks or freight.
Don Beavon, of Tulalip, drove the Mountain Loop Highway in his 1992 Honda Civic the day it opened. He said he made it from downtown Marysville to Darrington in an hour and 45 minutes.
He used quote marks around the word “highway” in an email about his experience.
“It was very muddy with potholes and temporary 25-mile per hour speed limit signs posted all along the way,” Beavon wrote. “I bottomed out a couple of times but numerous double-long dump trucks full of gravel were heading in to make improvements, as was a heavy-duty roller.”
The smoother route takes drivers from Darrington north to Rockport on Highway 530, west to Burlington on Highway 20 and south to Everett via I-5.
This route is 94 miles, compared to 70 from Darrington to Everett via Mountain Loop, but drivers can cover the distance in roughly the same amount of time. There are no gas stations or other services on the Mountain Loop, according to the state.