No major incidents reported in 5-hour Vail Pass closure on Friday night |

No major incidents reported in 5-hour Vail Pass closure on Friday night

Numerous spin-outs as wet snow leaves a layer of ice on I-70

Traffic backs up in Vail on Friday as I-70 eastbound was closed due to numerous spin-outs on the interstate east of Vail.
John LaConte photo.

VAIL – A five-hour closure on Vail Pass is no longer considered normal, and that’s a good thing, says Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jacob Best.

But in many other ways, Friday night’s five hour closure of I-70 EB was quite routine, Best said. No ambulances or fire engines were required in cleaning it up.

“Spun out vehicles, multiple crashes, property damage crashes along that whole grade of Vail Pass,” Best said. “They got a significant amount of snow in a short period of time.”

The closure began at about 4:45 p.m., and at that time of day, this time of year, that type of snow can be very tricky for motorists. Because the crash happened as night was falling, the snow was freezing on the roadway, creating a new hazard as the crashes were being cleaned up.

“The snow will come in with that heavy snow that’s thick with moisture, and then with those temperatures around freezing, just below freezing, it will come as snow, slightly melt on the interstate, and then turn into packed ice, which is very difficult to remove when it’s snowing so hard,” Best said.

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Depending on the area of the pileup, East Vail crashes can be very difficult to clean up due to the bridges on the interstate.

“Every now and again we’ll get those long-term closures, because of the high volume of cars in the area. Trying to get our tow trucks and plow trucks up and around this narrow area makes it very difficult especially on the bridges when they get stuck sideways, if all of our tow trucks are down below, they can’t get up and around,” Best said.

The Dotsero tweet

The Colorado Department of Transportation uses Twitter to update motorists on highway conditions. The notification that I-70 eastbound had closed was tweeted at 4:51 p.m. CDOT indicated in the tweet that there was no estimated time of reopening.

The comments started coming in at around 6:30 p.m., and they were polite, at first. Nine comments later, frustration among motorists became more apparent.

“Come on, you need to communicate better,” said one Twitter user.

But buried in CDOT’s tweets was a clue that Friday’s closure could be longer than a couple of hours. At 5:58 p.m., CDOT tweeted that it was initiating a commercial vehicle safety closure at mile marker 133, 50 miles away from the crash in Dotsero.

“Anytime we anticipate an extended closure or significant closure going eastbound, we will implement the Dotsero emergency truck parking,” Best said.

Best said extended closures during snow events have not been common in recent years.

“This is something we used to have quite often, but we haven’t has as much of it these past two years, with the limited snow,” Best said. “This was a call we used to do quite a bit, closing these passes for extended periods of time. But CDOT has figured out ways to manage it, and we have a lot more tow companies who are willing to work the pass.”

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