J. Adrian Stanley
The view from U.S. 24 into Manitou on August 10.
Generally speaking, it's difficult to get excited about a road closure. That's especially true when the road in question is used by thousands of travelers every day.
But, given the last few days, perhaps there is reason to be glad that the Colorado Department of Transportation plans to close U.S. Highway 24 at the slightest sign of trouble. CDOT is now monitoring the highway until Oct. 1. A quarter inch of rain or any sign of trouble will close the highway.
The idea here is to prevent more cars from being washed down the hill, and most of all to prevent more deaths. But if you do need to use U.S. 24, this could make it difficult to get places in a timely manner. Just a heads up.
New Procedures instituted for Highway 24: Flooding
EL PASO COUNTY – The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is establishing new protocols to help enhance safety for the traveling public on Ute Pass when flooding is likely or imminent.
Effective immediately, CDOT Maintenance crews will actively patrol U.S. 24 in the Waldo Canyon burn area between Manitou Springs and Cascade, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through October 1. In addition, when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning or more than ¼ of an inch of rain is detected in the burn area rain gauges, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol will close the highway. It will remain closed until the warning is lifted, any debris is removed from the highway and the road is safe for travel.
Electronic message signs along the highway also will display the following, depending on current conditions or forecasts:
· Flash Flood Watch: Proceed With Caution
· Flash Flood Advisory: Travel Not Recommended
· Road Closed: Flash Flood
“We learned last Friday just how quickly a Flood Watch can turn into a raging flash flood so we’re instituting these new procedures because we cannot compromise public safety in the interest of keeping the highway open,” said CDOT Regional Transportation Director Tom Wrona. “While we recognize this may be an inconvenience for some travelers at times, we must be cautious.”
Travel on U.S. 24 averages 25,000 vehicles per day between west Manitou Springs and Cascade.
CDOT currently is investigating early flash flood detection systems that would provide automatic electronic message sign warnings and automated road closures.
If a person is driving through a flash flood area, the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests you stay in your vehicle and don’t ignore barricades or other closure devices by driving around them. The following precautions also are suggested:
· Do your best to estimate the depth of the water (if other cars are driving through, take note of how deep the water is).
· If you must drive through water, drive slowly and steadily through the water.
· Avoid driving in water that downed electrical or power lines have fallen in — electric current passes through water easily.
· However, even if the water appears shallow enough to cross, don't try it. Water hides dips in the road. Worse yet, there may be no road at all under the water. Flooding can scour away the entire road surface and a significant amount of ground beneath.
· Watch for items traveling downstream — they can trap or crush you if you're in their path.
· If you have driven through water up to the wheel rims or higher, test your brakes on a clear patch of road at low speed. If they are wet and not stopping the vehicle as they should, dry them by pressing gently on the brake pedal with your left foot while maintaining speed with your right foot.
· Stay off your cell phone unless you must report severe injuries.
· If your vehicle stalls in the deep water, you may need to restart the engine to make it to safety. Keep in mind that restarting may cause irreparable damage to the engine.
· If you can't restart your vehicle and you become trapped in rising water, immediately abandon the vehicle, if it is safe, for higher ground. Try to open the door or roll down the window to get out of the vehicle. If you are unable to get out safely, call 911 or get the attention of a passerby or someone standing on higher ground so that they may call for help.
Updated information regarding U.S. 24 closures is available at www.cotrip.org or by calling 511. To receive closure updates via e-mail or text, visit www.coloradodot.info and click on the cell-phone icon in the upper right-hand corner. The link takes you to a list of items you can subscribe to, including Southeast Colorado – Traffic and Travel.