What are they? CDOT snow traps help keep highways free of snow
Keeping local highways cleared of snow is a monumental task in winter and while most citizens are familiar with plowing operations, the Colorado Department of Transportation also relies on a little-known program, called snow traps, to help ensure safe travel for motorists.
Snow traps are essentially windrows — a long line of material heaped up by the wind — made from snow. They are piled up in long, perpendicular lines in fields adjacent to state highways. Snow traps work by disturbing wind patterns just enough that Grand County’s light, airy powder drops into the depressions between the formed rows of snow.
The intention of snow traps is to reduce the amount of snow that blows across highways.
Andy Hugley, CDOT road supervisor for the eastern end of Grand County, said they use snow traps, which have existed for decades, in Grand County, though they’re more prevalent throughout the county’s northern neighbor, Jackson County.
“What we are trying to do is disturb the wind enough that the snow will drop into the traps,” Hugley said. “If you ever run down Highway 14, you will see miles and miles of them.”
In Hugley’s area of operation, CDOT works with about half-a-dozen landowners who allow CDOT onto their property to create the snow traps. No money trades hands between CDOT and the landowners as part of the agreement, though CDOT is required to repair any damage they cause to local fields and fences along the highway.
CDOT primarily utilizes loaders and graders to create the snow traps in Grand County, but rely on Snowcats in Jackson County. Equipment operators will head into a field, or highway easement, and plow the snow up into elongated piles. As more snow is deposited in the snow traps, operators return and plow the traps again, adding more height.
“The neat thing is we put them in and they melt out,” Hugley said. “It is not a structure that we have to maintain, like a fence.”
CDOT plows snow traps in the fields east of Hot Sulphur Springs, near County Road 61 on Highway 34, along sections of the highway between Granby and Red Dirt Hill and a few in the Tabernash area. Hugley said CDOT normally adds snow traps along the Fraser flats, but this season’s winter weather has stymied those efforts.
“It’s been too damp,” Hugley said. “But if we get enough snow, we will be putting some traps in there.”
While there are several factors that help CDOT determine where to place snow traps, heavy winds are the primary factor. Snowfall is a major factor, as well, but the traps are located in more open areas where high winds can cause large amounts of snow to blow across the highway, even in circumstances with relatively light snowfall.
“It depends on weather, whether that is snow or wind, on when we get in there and when we install them,” Hugley explained. “You can put traps in with almost no snow, but the wind comes up and fills them up.”
Welcome to fall in Colorado, where a red flag warning one day is followed the next day by snow and rain.