Much work remains before Independence Pass can be open and safe for travel, but the crew removing snow and ice Thursday morning appeared to be making a lot of progress just one mile below the summit’s Aspen side.
The workers are shooting for a targeted opening of May 22, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. If all goes well, the pass could open sooner, but that will depend on the whims of Mother Nature and a decision by Colorado Department of Transportation officials in Grand Junction.
Tim Holbrook, a CDOT supervisor, was working with a snowcat Thursday as two other members of his crew used front-end loaders to chip away at the huge snow wall near Highway 82’s mile marker 60, along the switchback that leads to the top. Another crew member with a snow-blowing vehicle was working farther west of the others, well below the switchback, clearing away patches that remained along the roadway.
From the winter gate at mile marker 47 to the Linkins Lake Trail parking lot near mile marker 59, the road was clear and easily drivable.
“We’re getting close,” Holbrook said.
The crew was working in an area nicknamed the “third water hole,” where snow accumulates during the winter to a height of about 30 feet.
Another CDOT crew will undertake an “avalanche-control mission” near the top of the east side of the pass next week, he said. That work will rely on a helicopter that drops explosives into predetermined areas, mainly the major cornices. A cornice is an unstable, overhanging edge of snow on a ridge of a mountain or along the sides of gullies.
“The idea is to break the cornices off and control them when no one’s there,” Holbrook said.
He said he expects his west-side crew to reach the top of the pass soon, perhaps on Monday.
The snow near the top of the pass is at 120 percent of average this year, Holbrook said. On Thursday morning, the snow was harder than usual, but the west-side crew was making headway, pushing or dropping the white stuff off the steep cliff edge.
The crewmen are working 12-hour days, four days per week. They started on April 28. Conditions during the first few days of the project were tougher, with fresh snow falling and higher winds.
Holbrook pointed out that snow removal is not the only key to opening the pass. Potholes need to be filled, and guardrails must be repaired. Trees will be trimmed.
“I know we want to bring our paint trucks in and get some fresh stripes up,” he said. “It’s much easier to do it when the road is closed.”
Other CDOT crewmen working with Holbrook on Thursday were Jeff Lewis, Daniel Montoya and Chris Young.