OURAY – The Colorado Department of Transportation announced Friday that Red Mountain Pass is finally back open following a closure that extended for nearly three weeks.
CDOT tells News5 the 19-day closure was one of the longest on record.
The entire corridor is now open between Ouray and Silverton, but drivers will see snowbanks as high as 60 feet tall on some sides of the roads following snow removal efforts.
Highway 550 was first closed on March 3 as heavy snow began falling over the high country. Conditions rapidly deteriorated over the next few days, creating extreme avalanche danger and dumping an “unprecedented” amount of snow over the roadway.
“Mother nature kept hitting us with multiple storms in a row. It was frustrating because the conditions forced us off the mountain for days because of the threat of avalanches hitting the highway,” said CDOT Maintenance Superintendent Greg Stacy. “However, we knew the risk was too high and it was not safe to work. It was the right thing to do for the safety of our operators.”
The force of the repeated avalanche activity even filled up the Riverside snow shed, which is designed to protect drivers in case of a slide in the avalanche-prone area. CDOT also said one of the slides also brought down a boulder that measured 11 feet in diameter.
Avalanche mitigation efforts officially wrapped up last Friday, when 20 avalanche paths were released along the route. That allowed which allowed CDOT crews to work 12-hour shifts around the clock on both ends of the closure to eventually clear the road.
Heavy equipment was brought in from Craig, Grand Junction, Alamosa, Nucla, Rico Durango and Hinsdale County to assist in the effort.
CDOT still warns drivers to watch for new slides as the weather warms and new rockfalls along the route.
Workers will also continue working to clear snow from shoulders and in narrow passages along the road.