Snow job: clearing Independence Pass
ASPEN It’s been nothing but a snow job for a six-person crew atop Independence Pass.For the past several weeks, workers from the Colorado Department of Transportation have been inching their way to the summit of the Continental Divide, bulldozing tons of the white stuff – all in an effort to get the pass open for motorists by noon Thursday, May 24. By early May, crews had the stretch ready for Saturday’s Ride the Pass, when hundreds of bicyclists descended upon the area.Crews started in April by towing in heavy equipment like bulldozers, plows and loaders.The work starts with a blower cutting the snow banks to loosen them up. Then a plow comes in and piles of snow are dumped into a loader and tossed on the side of the road.”The equipment we have is better than we’ve ever had,” said CDOT junior foreman Les Stanton.
Workers average between three and four miles a day on the 16-mile stretch. They made it from the winter gate from Lincoln Creek and the narrows section in a relatively short time, Stanton said.By the time they got to the ghost town of Independence, they found a snowmobile buried under several feet of snow. Crews pushed it out and towed it to the side of the road. CDOT crews contacted the owner, who had left the registration on the snowmobile.Loaders were used once the crew got to Lincoln Creek, where the snow was at least 3 feet deep. As they got higher, the snow was as deep as 15 feet, particularly where avalanches had occurred over the winter.It took five days to get to the bottom of the steep switch back leading up to the summit and another week to reach the top where the average snow depth is 8 feet, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.Snow levels seem to be lower this year, despite the late-season snowfall. Crews attribute it to warmer temperatures through March and April.
The past two weeks have been dedicated to ditch cleaning and road repairs.”Water is our worst enemy,” Stanton said. “The freezing and thawing is bad for pavement.”It’s been lonely at the top for the crew, but they keep themselves entertained.Crew member Gary Williams listened to Garth Brooks on his Ipod one recent afternoon.”I get tired of listening to that back-and-forth beeping,” he said of the trucks.The only sign of life was a red-tailed hawk.”There’s nothing they would rather do than be up here,” Stanton said of the crew.CDOT has been clearing the pass since 1924, when the wagon road was reconstructed for autos, a 13-year process. The road was paved in 1960.
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