OURAY COUNTY: CDOT opens Red Mountain Pass for Memorial Day weekend

By Sheridan Block

Travel plans on Red Mountain Pass will be completely unhindered during Memorial Day weekend as the Colorado Department of Transportation will postpone rockfall work for five days to accommodate holiday traffic.

Beginning Thursday, May 22, at 6:30 p.m., CDOT will fully open Highway 550 to single-lane alternating traffic. Scheduled closures are set to return on Wednesday, May 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and again from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays.
Working with contractor Midwest Rockfall, CDOT will conduct the following activities over the remainder of the project:
- fixing an additional 2,000 square feet of wire mesh placed via helicopter north of the current mesh to help contain remaining loose rock;
- installing a rockfall fence at mid-slope, below the wire mesh; the fencing material, as approved by the U.S. Forest Service, will be painted to blend into the hillside;
- removing the fence on the roadway after installation of the mid-slope fence is complete, enabling two-way traffic; and,
- patching roadway damage prior to opening the highway back to two lanes.
The current phase of the project is estimated to be completed by June 13. Single-lane, alternating traffic will continue through the summer until a more permanent solution has been developed.
"The third and final phase of rockfall mitigation is not fully determined at this time, but it will include further roadway repairs and the installation of monitoring equipment," said CDOT Region 5 program engineer Ed Archuleta. "The performance of the mid-slope fence will help us determine the scope of our final project and we expect that work to be underway in late summer into early fall."
Archuleta presented the Ouray City Council an update on CDOT's work on Red Mountain Pass and said that the team is committed to getting the project done as quickly as possible. He said that while the goal is to keep the safety of the traveling public in mind, CDOT also understands the impact the road closures have had on communities of Ouray and Silverton.
"We want to get it done. We're not going to drag this out," he said.
Meanwhile, local businesses in Ouray that have noticed drops in business due to the rock slides and road closures have applied for loans from the Small Business Association. Five local businesses applied for loans and on Friday, May 16, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet announced that the SBA made an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration, making low-interest loans available to businesses and nonprofit organizations in Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties.
"Red Mountain Pass is an important route for folks in southwest Colorado, especially for people doing business in the region," said Bennet. "With limited traffic passing through town while repairs are completed, businesses continue to face tough times. These loans will help small businesses and other organizations pay their bills and meet their obligations while things get back to normal."