Independence Pass east of Aspen likely to close Nov. 7 for the winter season |

Independence Pass east of Aspen likely to close Nov. 7 for the winter season

Independence Pass as seen from the east side of the Continental Divide, just below the summit. The pass is scheduled to close Nov. 7 for the winter season, but could remain open as late as Nov. 14 if weather cooperates.
Lauren Glendenning/The Aspen Times |

The Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to close Independence Pass for the winter season Nov. 7, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

However, if the weather continues to be sunny and warm, the agency could postpone the closure another week until Nov. 14, Tracy Trulove said. It’s unlikely the highway would remain open after that date, she said.

The pass closed Nov. 4 last year after a snowstorm, Trulove said.

Like many high-mountain passes in Colorado, Independence Pass is closed from late fall until Memorial Day weekend.

CDOT is in charge of closing and locking the gates on the Aspen and Twin Lakes sides of the pass, said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s public works director. The Aspen gate is located on Highway 82 just east of town.

Independence Pass receives heavy traffic in the summer and fall, which often includes large semi-trucks that ignore or don’t see the numerous signs prohibiting vehicles more than 35 feet long. Such vehicles are a relatively routine sight on the road in the summer and can cause major problems because they cannot navigate the narrow, winding road.

And while state lawmakers in 2014 doubled the fine for large vehicles caught trying to drive over the pass from $500 to $1,000, it has not solved the problem, officials have said. Several signs up and down Highway 82 currently warn drivers that Independence Pass is closed in the winter and closed to vehicles more than 35 feet long in the summer.

One of the main problems is GPS devices that do not differentiate between types of roads and road restrictions and send drivers of large vehicles along the most convenient route.

That was a particular problem on two days this summer when CDOT crews doing rockfall mitigation work in Glenwood Canyon closed Interstate 70. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office posted a deputy at the winter closure gate east of town to stop the trucks. Numerous large trucks were turned around, officials said at the time.

The problem occurred during the winter, too, when a rockslide closed Glenwood Canyon and Interstate 70 in both directions for weeks, and GPS units sent truckers up the Roaring Fork Valley toward the pass. Again, numerous trucks reached the winter closure gate and had to turn around and go all the way back to Glenwood Springs.

Pitkin County and CDOT officials are considering a novel approach to the problem. Those efforts include building an artificial curve in the road below the winter closure gate that mimics the narrow curves ahead and would force large vehicles to turn around because they couldn’t make the turn.

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