Aug 13, 2013 11:45 PM by Zach Thaxton
The Colorado Department of Transportation is adopting an immediate policy of closing U.S. Highway 24 between the Cave of the Winds and Cascade every time a Flash Flood Warning is issued for the southern portion of the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar which drains toward the highway.
The policy was decided upon Monday in a meeting of CDOT executives and supervisors, according to CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson. The move comes in the wake of two major flood events along the highway just west of Cave of the Winds. The most recent incident on August 9 led to the death of a Teller County man. Highway 24 will remain closed in both directions for the duration of any Flash Flood Warning for the southern portion of the burn scar, but CDOT spotters placed throughout the Ute Pass corridor can also call for the highway's closure without a Flash Flood Warning if they believe there is the threat of water, rocks, mud, or debris flowing onto the highway. Friday's deadly rockslide happened while the area was still under a Flash Flood Watch. By the time the Flash Flood Warning was issued, debris was already on the highway.
The first implementation of the new policy went into effect Tuesday afternoon at around 3:15 when heavy rain began falling on Highway 24 between Cave of the Winds and Cascade. Although the burn area was only under a Flash Flood Watch, CDOT crews in the canyon determined the threat of debris flowing or falling onto the highway was significant enough to close the highway. No flooding occurred and the highway reopened after approximately 30 minutes.
Many Highway 24 commuters seem to appreciate the abundance of caution. "I got caught in the last one last Friday," said David Walters of Woodland Park. "I was at Cascade when they closed it and it was pretty scary, so I'd rather not get stuck in the flood again." Lynne Myron of Chipita Park now brings her dogs with her anytime she has to drive down the pass after getting stuck in one highway closure that kept her from her home and kept her dogs locked up for 12 hours. "While it truly, truly is not fun and sucks for those residents who live up there, for the general mass populace, I think it is necessary," Myron said. Dominic Slaven of Cascade, however, says the move comes too late, especially since one life has already been lost and dozens of vehicles have been damaged or destroyed by flash flooding. He narrowly missed being caught in Friday's rockslide. "When I saw how much water was already coming down, I knew it should've already been closed," Slaven said. "They waited way too long to close it that night."
Wilson says the new policy will remain in place until October 1, which is generally considered the end of the rainy season.