Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study

Study Focus

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in partnership with Snohomish County and the United States Forest Service (USFS), is developing a feasibility study of the Mountain Loop Highway (MLH). The study limits begin at mile post (MP) 10.76 near the Forest Service boundary at Robe (Verlot), east of Granite Falls, and end at MP 50.87 near the Forest Service boundary (Clear Creek), south of Darrington. The length of MLH being evaluated is 40.11 miles, with special focus being made on the 14-mile gravel section of roadway between Barlow Pass and the White Chuck River.

The study will identify feasible improvement options to improve access to recreational opportunities, while also improving operational safety and reducing maintenance. The study will examine geometric characteristics, crash history, and existing and projected operational characteristics of the corridor. Existing and projected physical constraints, land uses, recreational and economic opportunities, funding constraints, and environmental resources will also be analyzed.

The study will include a package of short- and long-term recommendations intended to address the access, maintenance and transportation needs of the MLH over the planning horizon (year 2038). These recommendations will assist the study partners in targeting the most critical needs and allocation of resources.

Study Area Map

View the Mountain Loop Highway Vicinity  (Acrobat, 1.59 MB)

Study Schedule

The Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study began in February 2018 and aims for completion in January 2019. View the full version of the Schedule  (Acrobat, 696 KB).

Documents/Newsletters

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study?

The Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study is a pre-National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning-level assessment that can occur before project-level design and/or development is identified and initiated. FHWA uses this process to provide a better link between early transportation planning and environmental compliance efforts. The process involves conducting a planning-level evaluation of safety, operational, maintenance and environmental conditions to identify needs and constraints.

FHWA and local partner agencies can save time and money in subsequent projects by facilitating early identification of constraints through coordination with local government, agencies, the public, and other stakeholders; screening of possible improvement options; and elimination of infeasible options.

The feasibility study will consider multiple improvement options to address the needs and objectives within the study area. The planning process is distinct from a NEPA environmental compliance document and from design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction phases for an individual project.

What does a "pre-NEPA planning study" mean?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires state and federal agencies to disclose impacts resulting from state and federal actions. In the context of transportation projects, the NEPA process is intended to assist officials in making transportation decisions, while taking into account the human and natural environment and the public's need for safe and efficient transportation. The NEPA process ensures that information about anticipated transportation project impacts is available to the public before decisions are made and carried out.

The Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study is a pre-NEPA study that involves a planning-level assessment of the study area. The planning process includes a review of potential environmental issues and concerns. The results of this planning-level environmental review may be used to assist in later NEPA environmental compliance phases for an individual project.

Why develop this feasibility study?

The Mountain Loop Highway is the gateway to one of the most visited areas in the Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest. The MLH spans 52 miles from Darrington to Granite Falls and provides spectacular views and access to trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and a large amount of dispersed use recreational opportunities. The Verlot Public Service Center (PSC) near Granite Falls is a major stopping point along the corridor. Developed campgrounds, such as Gold Basin, the largest campground on the Mt Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest, are located along the MLH. Hiking and backpacking is another popular attraction along the MLH. There are numerous trail-heads and trails that visitors can use for day hikes or multi-day trips. The Big 4/lce Caves Trail is the most popular attraction along the MLH. This trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1978. It receives visitors from all over the world and is one of few ADA accessible trails in the Forest.

In February 2016, Snohomish County and the USFS submitted a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant application seeking funds to develop the feasibility study. The stated purpose for completing the study in the FLAP application was to "..determine the feasibility of improving the MLH to improve access to recreational opportunities while also improving operational safety and reducing maintenance". View the Mountain Loop Highway grant application  (Acrobat, 4.41 MB).

Who is conducting the study?

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is conducting this feasibility study in partnership with Snohomish County and the United States Forest Service (USFS). Robert Peccia and Associates (RPA) and Parametrix are the consulting firms assisting FHWA and the local partners in completing this planning effort.

What steps will be taken during the study?

1. Develop study work plan
The planning study partners assessed the complexity of issues within the study area and the level of effort required to address the issues. Based on this assessment, a FLAP grant application was submitted by Snohomish County and the USFS in February 2016.

2. Develop public involvement plan
The planning team will develop a Public Involvement Plan (PIP) to document the process for engaging the public, stakeholders, and other interested parties in the study.

3. Develop existing and projected conditions report
The planning team will assess the access needs, crash history, and existing and projected operational characteristics of the Mountain Loop Highway, as well as traffic patterns, safety concerns, recreational and economic opportunities, funding constraints, and environmental resources within the study area.

4. Identify needs and objectives
The planning team will identify needs and objectives for the MLH corridor. All comments received during the planning process will be considered by the planning team.

5. Identify improvement options
The planning team will identify potential short-, mid-, and long-term improvement options for the MLH corridor, which will be evaluated based on their ability to address the study needs and objectives. Potential impacts, mitigation opportunities, and estimated costs will be identified for each improvement option.

6. Prepare draft feasibility study report
The planning team will prepare a draft report which will document the planning process, including public and stakeholder input, key findings, recommendations, and next steps. The team will review comments on the draft report from agencies, stakeholders, and members of the public.

7. Finalize study report
The planning team will finalize the study report after considering comments from members of the public, stakeholders, agencies, and other interested parties. Recommendations from the study will assist FHWA, Snohomish County and the USFS in identifying potential projects based on needs, objectives, and funding availability.

What happens next?

The feasibility study will consider multiple improvement options within the study area. This early planning process is distinct from the environmental compliance, design, and construction phases of an individual project. Any future steps will be determined by FHWA in conjunction with Snohomish County and the USFS.

How will the public be involved in the study?

The public is encouraged to participate in the planning process. Three informational meetings will take place throughout the study. Each meeting will be held at two locations to be determined in Granite Falls and Darrington. The date, time, and location for these meetings will be announced before each event through local media and this website. Members of the public will also review information posted on this website and provide input throughout the study.

A study email list will be developed. Individuals who would like to be added to the study email list should contact Michael Trafallis, FHWA Project Manager, at Michael.Traffalis@dot.gov

Please provide a name and email address in the request, along with the title Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study in the subject line. FHWA, Snohomish County, USFS and RPA will collect and consider all comments to better understand potential issues, concerns, opportunities, and constraints. The planning team will recommend improvement options that best meet the needs and objectives of the Mountain Loop Highway developed through the planning process.

View a larger interactive map of the project area.

Project Details
Project # WA Snohomish 20(1)
Project Name Mountain Loop Highway Feasibility Study
Location Snohomish County, WA
Status In Development

Contact Information

Michael Traffalis, Project Manager
Email: Michael.Traffalis@dot.gov

Federal Highway Administration
Western Federal Lands Highway Division
610 East Fifth Street
Vancouver, WA 98661-3801