The Colorado Department of Transportation is establishing new protocols to help enhance safety for the traveling public on Ute Pass when flooding is likely or imminent, according to a release from CDOT.
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 Oct. 1. In addition, when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning or more than one-fourth 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.
Greater Woodland Park Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and President Debbie Miller says the closures are having some effect above the Pass but says, "The business community is just getting creative. Fortunately, with the very recent closures, it has been opening back up quickly."
The Woodland Park Council voted unanimously on Thursday night, August 15, to extend a $1,000 gift to the City of Manitou Springs to help the beleaguered city cope with its recent misfortunes related to flooding.
CDOT says 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 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 they stay in your vehicle and don’t ignore barricades or other closure devices by driving around them. The following precautions also are suggested:
• Estimate the depth of the water (if other cars are driving through, take note of how deep the water is).
• For those who 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 a person in their path.
• Those who have driven through water up to the wheel rims or higher can test their 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 the left foot while maintaining speed with the right foot.
• Stay off of cell phones unless reporting severe injuries.
• If a vehicle stalls in the deep water, the engine may need to be restarted to make it to safety. Keep in mind that restarting may cause irreparable damage to the engine.
• Those who can't restart a vehicle and become trapped in rising water should 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. Those who are unable to get out safely can 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 email 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.