Here is what we know. The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest roads were built during the past 60 years primarily for timber harvests and sales. These roads were not built to last—they were intended to move timber from the hills to the mills over relatively short periods. As timber-harvest related road use has declined, so have the funds to maintain them. Today, more than five million people recreate on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest annually and road access continues to be in high demand for recreation, wilderness and Tribal needs.
Roads and repairs are not created equal. Paved roads cost more to maintain, but need maintenance less frequently. Gravel roads cost less to maintain, but need work more frequently. Double-lane gravel roads with lots of recreation traffic cost more to maintain. Roads on steep terrain with unstable soils with lots of drainages cost more to repair.
Washouts from flood damage can cost a few thousand dollars to more than a million dollars to repair. Sometimes a bridge, culvert or other stream crossing structure must be replaced. Culvert replacements cost from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand depending on a variety of factors. In some cases, a culvert must be upgraded to a higher standard to provide fish passage. Bridges cost even more to replace. If funding is not available to replace or repair flood damage, the road must be closed until we obtain funding.
Road decommissioning removes the road, which helps reduce operation and maintenance costs in the long term. It is necessary in areas where the road threatens fish and wildlife habitats, but it is also expensive. The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has decommissioned more than 130 miles of roads. Decommissioning costs $40,000 to $100,000 per mile. Costs vary depending upon the location and the existing infrastructure. Paved roads cost more to decommission because of the additional haul and disposal costs for the asphalt.
The future is uncertain. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to stand back and let circumstances dictate our decisions for us. The Sustainable Roads Analysis will guide the Mt. Baker-Snoqulamie National Forest, in a holistic forest-wide approach, choosing the roads they can afford to keep open.