Giving Motorists A Pass
Independence: The 35-Foot Rule
Independence Pass is officially open for the summer. Yes, last Thursday, May 27, at high noon the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) workers unlocked the seasonal closure gates reopening Colorado Highway 82 on each side of Independence Pass to vehicles for the season.
And it sounds like it was a busy weekend for the now second highest paved roadway across the Continental Divide. There were also reports that the seasonal gateway saw a bit of snow this past holiday weekend.
Of course, neither of those statements would come as any surprise to anyone who regularly or faithfully (once-a-yearers) cross the 12,095’ pass. But what may be of interest to some readers are some statistics regarding that “commercial and recreational vehicles 35 feet or longer are prohibited” notice.
It’s the Independence Pass warning that comes with every media advisory, so Leadville Today was curious as to how many citations have been written since the law – HB 14-1021 – was first legislated back in 2014 by former State Representative Mille Hamner.
Just how effective are those CDOT roadside traffic alerts? Do they stop motorists outside the length restriction from trying to get back into those real tight curves this harrowing mountain pass has to offer?
To find out, LT pulled a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request from the Colorado State Patrol to see what the official numbers looked like. How many violators were from out of state? Which side had more tickets issued: Lake or Pitkin County? That and other fascinating information can be found in the Highway 82 Independence Pass Violators report.
While the answers may surprise you, the truth is that many of the too-long vehicles are often helped by other motorists and never reported. After all, what better motivator for helping out your neighbor than wondering how long you and YOUR family are going to be stuck behind some wayward GPS-loyalist from Florida atop a 12,000’ mountain pass with darkness creeping in.
Either way, if you plan to travel Independence Pass you should be prepared for anything, especially falling rocks early in the season. Here’s the rest of the official re-opening statement from CDOT:
Reopening the road for the 2021 season required significant rockfall mitigation during the week of May 17. Crews conducted rock scaling just east of the Grottos Trailhead. The successful work resulted in about 25 loads of rock being removed from the rock face next to CO 82.
Rock scaling is when crews remove nearby rocks, including locations above a roadway. The work was required after crews discovered rockfall while clearing the highway of snow earlier this spring. Cracked or loose rock is common along CO 82 on Independence Pass and can develop due to regular and frequent freeze/thaw cycles in mountainous locations with year-round winter weather.
Like previous years, CDOT crews also worked with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to perform avalanche mitigation before reopening.
CDOT reminds motorists that commercial and recreational vehicles 35 feet or longer are prohibited. The restriction is due to tight curves, steep inclines and narrow lanes on some sections of the pass, and applies to vehicles and trailers with a combined length of more than 35 feet. Motorists should plan for the restriction to be in place on CO 82 between Mile Point 47.2 (Aspen side) and MP 84.2 (Leadville/Twin Lakes side, about one mile west of the junction with US 24).
Independence Pass: CO Highway 82
Independence Pass is a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway that is maintained by CDOT. It is the highest paved state highway in Colorado, crossing the Continental Divide at 12,095 feet. Though it is a paved road, it is also narrow and curvy on several stretches and therefore difficult to traverse in poor weather. The pass also has steep drop-offs in places along the route. Several areas of the roadway can only accommodate a single car width, so drivers must use caution and pay close attention when confronted with oncoming traffic.
The summit of Independence Pass is located 18 miles west of Twin Lakes and 19 miles east of Aspen and crosses the Continental Divide over the Sawatch Range. The Pass travels through 32 miles of mountainous terrain. It winds through the San Isabel National Forest on the east and White River National Forest on the west side of the Divide.
During the winter months, heavy snowfall at the highest elevations of the pass makes it impossible to travel. Independence Pass is generally open during the summer months, from Memorial Day through November, depending on weather conditions. Motorists and cyclists should check weather conditions prior to traveling mountain passes, as spring snowstorms can prompt closures or slow traffic.
Stay Connected, Stay Informed
Travelers are urged to “know before you go.” Gather information about weather forecasts, anticipated travel impacts and current road conditions prior to hitting the road. CDOT resources include:
- Road conditions and travel information: www.COtrip.org
- Project or travel alerts: bit.ly/COalerts
- Scheduled lane closures: codot.gov/travel/scheduled-lane-closures.html
- Social media: Twitter @coloradodot and Facebook facebook.com/coloradodot
Cone Zone: South of Leadville Today
As if the extended work schedule on Halfmoon Road (now thru June 30!) wasn’t enough for roadways south of Leadville Today, add a couple more to your cone zone list.
Yesterday, June 1 the Colorado Department of Transportation and APC Southern Construction announced they will begin improvements to US Highway 24 and Colorado Highway 300 in Lake County beginning Monday, June 7. The project is part of CDOT Rural Paving Program and will improve approximately 17 miles of US 24. The plan begins south of Leadville at Mile Point 176 and continuing west to MP 194. Work will take place on CO 300 from MP 0–4.4. Motorists should anticipate one lane of alternating traffic and plan for travel delays of up to 15 minutes.
Work on both roadways includes resurfacing a total of approximately 21.4 miles with deck milling, sealing, and repaving at bridge structures; erosion control; guardrail replacement; signing and final striping. Shoulder widening on US 24 will take place between MP 178 and MP 181. The project is expected to be completed in October 2021.
This project will enhance safety for motorists traveling along the two-lane highway. Once the resurfacing work is completed, drivers will find a smoother roadway surface with new guardrail, new signage, high visibility markings and stabilized shoulders. These enhancements will make the highway safer for residents, visitors and commercial truck traffic.