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Sierra gateway opens

Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4, at 8,730 feet elevation, opened for the season last week. Higher passes, Tioga on Highway 120 and Sonora on Highway 108, remain closed.


Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat A motorist drives west Monday on Highway 4 next to Kinney Reservoir below Ebbetts Peak toward Ebbetts Pass in Alpine County.

E bbetts Pass on Highway 4 opened for the season last week, and other mountain passes may soon follow.

The two highest paved passes in California, Tioga Pass on Highway 120 and Sonora Pass on Highway 108, both in Tuolumne County, remained closed Monday due to post-winter repairs and maintenance.

Ebbetts Pass in Alpine County, 8,730 feet above sea level, is lower than Tioga Pass and Sonora Pass. Caltrans crews opened Ebbetts Pass at noon Friday, connecting the Highway 4 corridor in Calaveras County with U.S. 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.

Caltrans District 10 people say motorists should remain prepared for winter-like weather and rapidly changing conditions on approach to Ebbetts Pass.

“Motorists should expect the worst conditions and be prepared when traveling in areas subject to hazardous conditions,” said Skip Allum, District 10 spokesman. “ All vehicles, including those with four-wheel drive or snow tires, should, additionally, carry chains when traveling during snowy weather.”

Highway 108 to Sonora Pass, elevation 9,624 feet, is expected to be open Wednesday from the Mono County side, Caltrans District 9 people in Bishop said. Caltrans District 10 people indicate the 108 in Tuolumne County may open to Sonora Pass by mid-week.

Florene Trainor, with District 9 said Caltrans crews in Mono County, have been working on clearing snow, removing rocks and repairing the road over Sonora Pass.

“It is anticipated that the road will open from its winter closure on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, weather and safety permitting,” Trainor said in an announcement. “This opening is dependent upon favorable weather and verification that the highway is safe for users.”

Kristin Noles, of District 9, said Monday that, according to Maintenance Supervisor Clint Weier, “We are on track to hopefully open SR-108 on Wednesday, May 18, weather and safety permitting.”

Caltrans District 10 people have not set a specific day for opening the 108 in Tuolumne County to Sonora Pass.

“Maintenance crews are still working to clear SR-108 this week,” Rick Estrada, of Caltrans District 10, said Monday. “I am hearing from maintenance that they could have an update on the opening on Wednesday, May 18.”

Farther south along the Sierra Nevada crest, Caltrans District 9 personnel in Mono County opened the lower gate on Highway 120 to the Yosemite National Park entrance gate at Tioga Pass, 9,945 feet elevation, on Thursday.

The 120 inside Yosemite National Park remains closed from Tioga Pass west to Crane Flat.

Personnel with the National Park Service said road crews are still working to make the 120 safe to open. Remaining work includes clearing fallen trees and rocks, removing hazard trees, plowing side roads and plowing turnouts. As of Monday, there was still no estimated opening date.

Bicycles but no motorcycles or other motorized vehicles were allowed on the 120 between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass this past weekend. Bicyclists on the 45-mile section are advised to obey “no stopping zone” signs and watch for “administrative vehicle traffic.”

This past winter was the wettest for the Central Sierra Nevada since 2010-11. Crews were able to open the 120 over Tioga Pass by May 4 in 2015, May 2 in 2014, May 11 in 2013, and May 7 in 2012. Five years ago, clearing snow and making post-winter repairs kept Tioga Pass closed until June 18.