New avalanche mitigation equipment will soon be installed above three slide paths along US Highway 550's Red Mountain Pass.
The Colorado Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday that it will begin to install the equipment along US 550 between Silverton and Ouray on July 10. The remote avalanche control systems will be installed at the top of three known slide paths near the pass summit: Blue Point and Blue Willow slide paths near mile point 81, and near the Alpine Loop start at the Mother Cline slide path at mile point 89.
“These are the first fixed systems to be installed on US 550, and the units are being set at the most ideal locations to more effectively trigger these known slide paths,” said CDOT Southwest Region Transportation Director Julie Constan. “As in other locations across our state’s mountain passes, the remote-controlled systems will enable more efficient avalanche control, making the areas safer for CDOT crews and travelers.”
This equipment mixes oxygen and propane in nozzles at the top of these high-risk slide areas. When a person remotely explodes the mixture, the force is pointed down at the snow, loosening it and sending it careening downhill. The roadways below are always closed to the public during this work and only reopen once maintenance crews clear the road.
This helps prevent naturally occurring avalanches.
The daily grind of snowplowing one of Colorado's most dangerous roads
“Mother Cline and Blue Point/Blue Willow are our most active avalanche slide paths on US 550, and the Blue Point area is also a very popular spot for backcountry skiers,” said CDOT Maintenance Area Supervisor Vance Kelso. “With these remote systems, we can more effectively bring snow down during peak conditions, often at night, before the sun hits the paths and hardens the snow surface. Then, we can clear the debris on the highway before morning and have things opened back up for the traveling public.”
The construction cost is estimated at $744,900.
Tragedies, trials behind Colorado's avalanche forecasting program on US 550
This project brings a few traffic impacts. Work will begin Monday and will continue until it is complete. Every Monday through Friday, crews will be in the area from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., with some weekend work possible. Traffic holds up to 20 minutes are likely. To learn more about what to expect, click here, email email@example.com or call 970-708-2559.
CDOT and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center work together every year to monitor and control more than 270 avalanche paths around Colorado's highways.
Geovert out of Broomfield is the prime contractor for the project. It will install systems from both Gazex and O’bellx, which can both be operated at night.