Highway 24 remains closed for third night
MINTURN — U.S. Highway 24 remained closed through Monday night after a rockslide that happened around 6:45 p.m. on Saturday blocked the road between Minturn and Red Cliff at mile marker 148, a few miles east of Minturn.
Colorado Department Transportation crews worked through Monday blasting the rocks, some as big as pick-up trucks, to smaller pieces in order to clear the road. There was significant damage to the pavement, which crews will need to repair before the road can be re-opened, said CDOT’s Tracy Trulove.
“There were several holes we had to fill,” she said. “They’ll be back out at daybreak to work on that, and we’re looking at a midday opening.”
Specialists who investigated the area said the rocks fell from nearly 1,000 feet above the road, from a part of the mountain that is private property.
Meanwhile, residents of Red Cliff and Leadville have had to find other ways to get to the Vail Valley, rerouting to Copper and over Vail Pass.
On Saturday and Sunday, some residents reported commutes of two to three hours to get into Vail from Red Cliff due to winter road conditions and traffic. Red Cliff resident Stacy Anderson said she first heard about the slide Saturday evening when she was at work. After getting off work at 10 p.m. that evening, she made her way up Vail Pass, past Copper and to Highway 24, dealing with road closures and snowy roads — and without cell reception for most of the way. It took her about three hours to get home that night, and then two hours the following day to return to work.
“My commute normally takes 30 minutes in good conditions (over Battle Mountain), and if it’s super snowy, it takes 45 minutes,” Anderson said. “I’ve lived up here for four years, and I haven’t experienced a closure this long. This is just a tough time of the year for it happen, with the weather and the busy season.”
Conditions seemed to have improved Monday as snowplows caught up with the snowfall. Red Cliff Mayor Scott Burgess said that on Monday, the detour added about 45 minutes to his normal work commute into Avon.
“It really wasn’t that bad. It took us about 1 hour 20 minutes to get in this morning,” he said. “I was shocked at how nice the roads were. The plows had done a nice job between Red Cliff and Leadville.”
Leadville resident Dudley Duel said he was lucky enough to not have to work on Sunday and Monday, but that he will have to commute to Beaver Creek today.
“It doesn’t add on too much time to take Vail Pass, but I generally avoid it, because of the high speeds, inexperienced drivers and trucks. Of course, Vail Pass is more likely to close than not, so I’m praying it stays open,” he said. “There’s a lot of snow, so you never know.”
No one was hurt in the slide, but a couple of vehicles sustained damage in the incident, said Josh Lewis, a trooper with the Colorado State Patrol.
The slide occurred in the same area where a major rockslide occurred in April. While major slides such as Saturday’s are not common, locals say that falling rocks and debris on the road have always been a problem.
“Once I was driving (on Highway 24), and a rock the size of a grapefruit hit my grill. Fortunately it didn’t really hurt anything except my grill and some dents,” Duel said. “I always drive a little wide to the road between Red Cliff and Minturn. There are often rocks in the road in the fall and spring, and you have to keep your eyes peeled.”
Specialists will re-evaluate the area in the spring once the snow melts to see if anything can be done to make the stretch safer. Trulove said that people often ask what can be done to avoid or prevent slides.
“Unfortunately, the answer is that we live in Colorado and in the Rocky Mountains, and while there are many natural disasters we don’t have, rockslides are one that we do have and that we have to deal with,” she said. “It’s not something that we can predict without a crystal ball.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.