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CDOT discusses opening Independence Pass early

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Jeanne McGovern / The Aspen TimesA cyclist weaves through the barricade at the winter closure gate of Highway 82 on Independence Pass, outside of Aspen, on Tuesday. Colorado Department of Transportation officials will assess conditions at the end of April and beginning of May and decide if the road can be opened earlier than usual.
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ASPEN – Last year there was so much snow on Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, that crews from the Colorado Department of Transportation didn’t even start clearing Highway 82 until early May.

This year the snow level is low enough that the Transportation Department will assess at the end of April and beginning of May whether to open the road sooner than the traditional date.

“It’s too soon to tell. We’re definitely going to revisit this in late April,” said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.

The highway traditionally opens at 2 p.m. on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, which would make the opening on May 24 this year. But if conditions remain the same, CDOT might consider pushing the opening to an earlier day, Shanks said.

The big unknown is whether it is going to snow more this spring. April is traditionally wet, but it’s been mostly dry this season. May is usually a mixed bag. Shanks said Transportation Department officials will look at the long-range forecast in May to help determine whether the road should be opened early. They don’t want to open the road only to be forced to close it again for snowfall, she said.

Another consideration is the Ride for the Pass, an annual benefit bike ride to raise funds for the Independence Pass Foundation. Last year it was canceled because of poor weather and snow on the road. This year it is scheduled for May 19.

If the pass opens early, Shanks said, CDOT officials have indicated that they would close it again for the half day or so needed for the event.

“They’re used to having the race with no traffic,” Shanks said.

The Ride for the Pass is entering its 18th year. Roughly 500 riders have entered the event for each of the last 10 years, according to Independence Pass Foundation Director Mark Fuller. Last year was the first time it was canceled because of bad weather. It is ironic that this year good weather is creating an issue, Fuller said.

Meanwhile, highway crews are taking advantage of the weather and lack of snow to perform maintenance on Highway 82 past the closure gate, roughly 5 miles east of Aspen. The crews are engaged in, or will be engaged in, filling potholes, sealing cracks, repair or replacing signs and guard rails, trimming brush and branches and clearing ditches.

That’s a far cry from last year. The snow removal crew was dealing with drifts as high as 30 feet and hard as concrete near the top of the pass. They were dealing with falling and drifting snow the week they raced to meet the opening. They got the road open in time.


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