CDOT asks drivers for patience, caution around East Troublesome burn scar flooding
The Colorado Department of Transportation is asking those traveling on Colorado Highway 125 to practice both patience and caution as the department and other agencies work to keep the road safe during repeat flooding events in the East Troublesome Fire burn scar between miles 7 and 17.3
According to Jason Simpson, CDOT’s maintenance supervisor lead for Grand County, road crews have been ready “24/7” to respond to the mudslides, which have occurred repeatedly since heavy rains started this summer. He added that debris-removal equipment is staged in the area to cut response time when slides happen.
The slides have occurred when heavy rainfall hit the Willow Creek watershed. Simpson said the burn denuded the hills of vegetation, “so no growth retains the water as it rushes down the hillsides at such a rapid rate that it’s removing tons of debris (such as) trees, gravel and boulders that can reach 4 feet in diameter.”
“We have a 4-yard loader, a very big piece of equipment, and it was moved approximately 8 feet (in one of these slides),” he said. “I’m thankful we didn’t have anyone in it or around it and no one got hurt.”
Simpson said regional CDOT crews in Glenwood Canyon have shut I-70 down multiple times during flash flood warnings, but that his crews watch the weather patterns, “and if we get heavy rains, we’re ready to respond.”
Still, multiple drivers have gotten stuck in slides in that stretch of road.
“We’ve had cars more or less stranded between mudslides (during the same weather event) and we have gone up there all hours of the night,” said Simpson. “But even after removing debris and getting drivers out safely, if it’s still raining in that area, we keep the road closed.”
This, apparently, has irked some drivers, who have driven around the closed signs and slowed cleanup efforts as they attempt to drive through while there is still heavy equipment on the road, said Simpson.
“That just prolongs us cleaning up, because we have to stop and explain that the road is closed. I’ve spent hours talking to the traveling public (asking them), ‘Please do not go around road closed signs,’” he said.
Simpson said drivers could also be putting themselves in more danger by not knowing the weather forecast or they could be out of luck reaching help if they get stranded, because he said there is no cell service between approximately mile 3 and Walden.
With heavy rains expected to continue in the coming month, Simpson encourages drivers to observe the following safety precautions:
- In the event of a slide, remain inside of your vehicle. “That’s probably the safest place,” Simpson said, “because if that mud comes down and slams you against it, it might be the last time you travel that roadway.”
- Pre-plan trips. When traveling long distances, keep a full tank of fuel, and bring water, food and warm clothes, “because you could be more or less trapped on the road, depending on how many chutes (slide) for hours” waiting for help.
- Avoid slide-prone areas when authorities forecast heavy rain. For more on this, check out the National Weather Service’s Turn Around Don’t Drown campaign: Weather.gov/safety/flood-turn-around-dont-drown.
When it comes to CDOT doing its job of keeping roadways and drivers safe, Simpson would like readers to know that the last thing its crews want to do is impede traffic or be in anyone’s way.
“We’re out there trying to make the road safe and we look forward to drivers enjoying the roadway instead of getting caught in a terrifying event,” he said.
In return, drivers can give a honk and friendly wave to the workers.
“It makes them feel good that they just spent all night working in the worse conditions possible and it’s nice to know that the traveling public likes and respects what we’re doing out there,” Simpson said.
CDOT is currently working with the county, Northern Water, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to try and mitigate more flooding through the use of aerial mulching.
“The mulch helps to divert the energy from rain to prevent mud and debris flows during rain events,” said Micah Benson, assistant Grand County manager. “We’ve targeted areas with high burn severity (low regrowth potential) and moderate slopes (not too steep or the mulch isn’t effective, not so flat where the risk of mud and debris flows is low) for mulch application. Hazard trees from Grand County are harvested to create the mulch being used, which also helps to reduce future fire risk.”
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