Avalanche danger, rock slide menace highways | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche danger, rock slide menace highways

Janet Urquhart

High avalanche danger forced state officials to close Highway 133 over McClure Pass, south of Carbondale, on Tuesday.Meanwhile, a rock slide that sent debris crashing onto Highway 82 in Shale Bluffs near Aspen on Monday night hampered yesterday’s morning commute. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department reported no injuries as a result of the slide, but CDOT crews worked through the night to clear the debris. The slide occurred shortly before midnight on Monday, the sheriff’s office said.One upvalley lane was closed to traffic until Tuesday afternoon, but work at the site is not finished, according to Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer in Glenwood Springs.The lane closure only exacerbated travel headaches early Tuesday for Aspen-bound motorists who were already dealing with an icy highway after Monday’s rain froze during the night. In addition, periodic heavy snow began falling early Tuesday morning and continued throughout the day.”It’s a mess out there,” one Basalt resident said after reaching Aspen.Motorists heading south on Highway 133 can reach Redstone and Marble, but McClure Pass – the route toward Paonia – was closed at 11 a.m. Tuesday due to high avalanche danger, Elsen said. The road slices across steep slopes on its way to the top of the pass, just beyond the turnoff to the tiny town of Marble.The highway will be closed indefinitely, Elsen said. CDOT will next evaluate the avalanche threat this morning, he said.At Shale Bluffs, located just downvalley from the Aspen airport, all lanes in both directions will have to be closed at some point so a contractor can knock down remaining loose rocks on the bluff, break apart the large rocks that are sitting next to the highway and finish cleaning up the debris. Crews will probably halt traffic for short stretches of time, perhaps 10 minutes, while they work, and then let traffic flow before cutting it off again, Elsen said.It appears most of the shale that broke loose came straight down and wedged itself between the bluff and the highway barrier on the edge of the road, he said.Its removal will depend upon when a contractor is available and when weather conditions will permit crews to stop traffic safely.”It may happen this week, it could happen next week,” Elsen said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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