Crews work 12-hour shifts plowing snow from Rifle to Aspen
December 9, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The first major snowstorm of the season has kept Colorado Department of Transportation maintenance crews busy around the clock trying to clear area highways for commuters and travelers.
“With a storm like this, we have about half of our crewmen out for a 12-hour shift, and the other half out for the other 12 hours,” CDOT spokesperson Nancy Shanks said.
The Glenwood Springs maintenance area, which includes Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Carbondale and Aspen, has a crew of 41 maintenance workers, 40 pieces of equipment and covers 703 lane miles, she said.
“So, at any given time we have nearly 20 plow drivers out there when we have a big snow event like this,” she said. “It depends how long the storm lasts how long we will keep that up.”
Crews working Highway 82 Tuesday morning gave priority to the upvalley (eastbound) lanes to accommodate rush-hour commuter traffic, most of which is headed toward Aspen, Shanks said.
That meant the downvalley (westbound) lanes were limited to one plowed lane for a period of time until crews could work their way back toward Glenwood Springs. Depending on how much it snows overnight, downvalley commuters should expect the same conditions Wednesday morning, she said.
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“Things are getting fairly well cleared now,” she said around 1 p.m., Tuesday. “But the winds have picked up, especially between mile markers 6 and 18, and the snow is piling up as quickly as crews can plow it.
State Highway 133 over McClure Pass between Carbondale and Paonia had received a total of 28 inches of snow since it began snowing early Monday through early Tuesday afternoon, and the snow was continuing to fall steadily.
“We’re fairly well staffed, but we are down to one crewman on McClure Pass,” Shanks said.
Highway 133 remained open, but chain laws were in effect for commercial vehicles traveling over McClure Pass.
“We have been able to keep it open, and the avalanche danger remains low,” she said.
The storm brought blizzard conditions to the southwest part of the state, where four mountain passes were closed Tuesday, including Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. 160 and Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes on U.S. 550 between Ouray and Durango.
“We have crews working from the north and from the south, doing avalanche control and clearing snow until they meet somewhere in the middle,” Shanks said. “Right now, crews are hoping to get all the highways in that area open by this evening.
“We’re also doing avalanche control on Highway 145 over Lizard Head Pass,” she said.
The Grand Junction area also received between 10 and 12 inches of snow overnight, resulting in school and government office closures throughout Mesa County. The Grand Valley Transit bus system in Grand Junction also shut down for the day.
Although highway crews in those areas were mobilized, Shanks said CDOT did not anticipate having to borrow crews from other regions.
“It’s a pretty fast-moving storm, so we are expecting a bit of a reprieve later in the day and overnight,” she said. “The wind is still a concern.”
Highway crews are on 12-hour shifts to avoid overtime, but if the heavy snow continues late into the week, that could become a necessity, she said.
“We definitely do get into some overtime when we have lengthier storms,” she said.
Locally, motorists should be aware of icy and snowpacked conditions on roadways for the morning commute, she added.
“People should expect snowpack on I-70 between Rifle and Glenwood Canyon and on Highway 82 in morning, especially in Snowmass Canyon,” Shanks said. “Even areas that don’t have snowpack may be iced over in the morning, especially ramps and bridges.”