CDOT: Independence Pass will open on schedule | VailDaily.com

CDOT: Independence Pass will open on schedule

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Andre Salvail / The Aspen TimesA Colorado Department of Transportation worker uses a front-end loader to clear a stretch of Highway 82 near the top of Independence Pass early Wednesday. Officials said the pass will open to traffic Thursday at 2 p.m., weather permitting.

ASPEN – Amid blowing snow coming from all directions, Colorado Department of Transportation workers Wednesday morning cleared the last snow-filled stretch of Highway 82 on the west side of the Independence Pass summit.

CDOT maintenance patrol supervisor Don Poole said the goal was to have the pass ready for traffic by 2 p.m. Thursday. That’s when the gates on the east and west sides are expected to officially open following the heavy winter and spring snows that keep the pass closed each year from the first major storm in autumn until Memorial Day weekend.

“This is the most snow I’ve seen up here in the last few years,” Poole said early Wednesday, after starting up the heavy equipment needed to finish clearing the last mile or so below the summit.

Poole said his team of six workers has been busy clearing the west side of the pass – the Aspen side – since the first week of May. Another CDOT team finished clearing the east side of the pass Tuesday. CDOT estimated the winter and spring snowfall to be 452 percent of normal on the east side of the pass and 361 percent on the west side.

Wednesday morning, Poole utilized a three-man crew, which included himself, clearing snow and dumping it over the edge of a cliff with a drop of more than 1,000 feet. The icy snowbank against the mountain was as high as 30 feet in some spots and described by one crewman as hard as concrete.

Thick ice covered the road a mile or two below the summit. Poole said he hoped the sun and rising temperatures would melt it before the pass opens Thursday.

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“Summer’s going to have to show up at some point,” said CDOT crew member Tim Holbrook.

On Tuesday, workers had cleared a stretch of road around mile marker 59, but 3 to 4 inches of new snow and blowing snow covered the area when they arrived Wednesday. Weather conditions were poor when work started at 7 a.m., but by 8 a.m. the sun started to peek through the clouds.

Though the pass is scheduled to open Thursday afternoon, poor weather Wednesday night could potentially postpone the opening, Poole said. CDOT officials advise motorists to use extreme caution if navigating the pass over the next few days or weeks.

Snowplows will be put into action on an as-needed basis over the next month should winter conditions return to the area. “Crews will be on standby since there is still the potential of bank slides,” said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.

Independence Pass, which reaches a summit of 12,095 feet at mile marker 61.4, is the second-highest paved mountain pass in Colorado.