Mild winter allows Independence Pass to open early
After snow from the last April storm was moved from the road and shoulders, Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance crews began completing some of the dry-road maintenance items in preparation for a potential early open, as long as weather complied. Weather has complied — and crews have one more week of work before opening the pass on Friday, May 11, nearly two weeks ahead of schedule.
Each year, CDOT sets a goal to get the 12,095-foot pass open on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend (this year, that would be May 24). As many will recall, last year CDOT barely opened the pass by the goal date — yet it did open, thanks to 14-hour days and a little help from a very powerful snow cat that quickly removed record snow depths up to 25 feet along the roadside. In another comparison, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) last winter showed the snowpack on the east side represented 452 percent of average in late May; and on the west side, 361 percent of average. Conversely, this year CAIC data show zero percent of average.
“This has been an extraordinarily wild swing in snowpack amounts compared to last year,” CAIC Forecaster Rob Hunker said. “We’ve had two extreme years in a row — last year, the snowpack melted around June 23, this year it happened by May 1.”
Since the snow was cleared, CDOT crews have completed the following:
- Moving 256 concrete barriers before clearing ditches
- Hauling out 390 loads of rock debris from the ditches
- Blading 150 tons of asphalt millings on the shoulders to set barrier back onto
- Resetting the 256 barriers and replacing additional that were damaged (much of the damaged barrier has been recycled for other public agency use, saving disposal costs)
- Working with special CDOT crews from Grand Junction to drill and blast six very large rocks in the ditch so they could be hauled away
- Repairing/replacing signs and roadside delineators
- Trimming trees and brush
- Patching pot holes
Final work next week will involve fixing guardrail and blading/clearing more ditches, as necessary with the spring run-off.
“It’s important to note there still a chance of wet avalanche events in May in the back country – however there is no avalanche hazard to SH 82 travel,” Hunker said, who included a note on his online forecast to his CDOT and CAIC coworkers: “This is my last avalanche forecast of the season. Thanks for operating safely, have a great summer, and I will see you again next November.”
Following the May 11 opening, CDOT crews will continue the business of keeping this and other state highway mountain passes safe and in good condition for the busy summer season ahead.
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