Projects

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Highway 24 seem to close so often nowadays just west of Manitou Springs?

A: The 18,000 acre Waldo Canyon Fire in June 2012 destroyed much of the vegetation north of U.S. 24.  That destruction now has created what’s known as the Waldo Canyon Burn Scar.  Because there is minimal vegetation, every time there is excessive rainfall over the burn scar – primarily between May 1 and September 30 – it can create flooding, mudslides and other debris flow above Highway 24.  All that occurs well above the highway, then flows downhill into Fountain Creek which runs parallel to the highway and onto the U.S. 24 corridor, requiring a road closure.

How many times has the highway been closed this year and last year on Ute Pass?

A: CDOT has closed the highway nine times since May 2014. In 2013, the highway was closed 17 times, including three flood events, the worst of which was on August 9, when, in addition to flooding, mud and debris covered the highway, and one fatality was recorded.

Why is CDOT so quick to close Highway 24?

A: It is closed for the safety of the traveling public only when the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a “Flash Flood Warning” for the Waldo Canyon Burn Scar area.  If a Flash Flood Warning is issued for other nearby areas, the highway remains open.  The Waldo Canyon Burn Scar is the primary area of concern for CDOT.

I often see CDOT trucks stationed at the Cave of the Winds intersection and in Cascade but the highway remain open.  Why?

A: Once the NWS issues a Flash Flood Watch or Advisory, CDOT crews begin stationing at those locations in the event the watch or advisory is upgraded to a warning.  By being on-site, it allows maintenance crews to close the highway in short order in case of an upgraded forecast.  In addition, when crews are dispatched, they monitor and patrol Highway 24 within the Waldo Canyon Burn Area between Manitou Springs and Cascade for the duration of the forecasted storm.  If necessary, CDOT expands the patrol area to cover points west of Cascade.

What other indicators does CDOT utilize to dispatch crews and maintain safety on Highway 24?

A: If 0.25 inch or more rainfall is detected in the burn scar rain gauges, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) physically close the highway.  CDOT and CSP then “sweep” the canyon to ensure there are no vehicles or individuals remaining in the canyon. 

What’s the difference between a Flash Flood Warning, Watch and Advisory?

A: The National Weather Service defines those as:

  • · Flash Flood Warning - Issued when flash flooding is imminent, generally within the next 1 to 3 hours. Usually issued based on observed heavy rainfall (measured or radar estimated), but may also be issued for significant dam breaks that have occurred or are imminent.
  • Flash Flood Watch - Issued generally when there is the possibility of flash flooding or urban flooding over an area within the next 36 hours.
  • Flash Flood Advisory - Issued when flooding is imminent or occurring, generally within the next 1 to 3 hours, but is not expected to substantially threaten life and property.

Be aware that when a Watch is issued but the sky is predominantly clear, CDOT doesn’t dispatch a crew.

How does the traveling public know when the highway’s closed?

A: CDOT utilizes a variety of channels to notify the public.  One is activation of the electronic variable message boards on U.S. 24 and Interstate 25.  A closure sign typically reads: Flash Flood Warning - Road Closed.  In addition, drivers can call 511 or check the www.cotrip.org website.  CDOT also has implemented a subscription e-mail and text service to inform the traveling public when Highway 24 is closed or opened following a flash flood warning.  To subscribe, please visit www.coloradodot.info and click on the green cell-phone icon in the upper right-hand corner.  The link takes you to a list of items you can subscribe to, including U.S. 24 Ute Pass. CDOT also uses Twitter and Facebook to inform the public.

When does the highway reopen?

A: CDOT will reopen the roadway when the Flash Flood Warning is lifted and any debris has been removed..  A supervisor then makes a final determination that it is safe to reopen for travel.

What projects has CDOT completed to enhance public safety in the canyon?

A: So far, CDOT has:

  • Constructed a “Super” culvert at Waldo Canyon, about one mile west of Manitou Springs. The extra-large concrete box culvert is designed to carry excessive amounts of water.  Measuring 24 feet wide and 10 feet high, the culvert is ten times larger than the 72 inch metal pipe it replaced.  The oversized culvert allows heavy water flow, debris and mud to pass under the highway, not over it.
  • Installed rain monitoring equipment, in coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in Waldo and Williams canyons.  The equipment provides:
    • A real time video feed camera, providing CDOT and USGS with the ability to see if a rain event is producing debris flow or just water.
    • A non-contact stage gauge, measuring the depth of flow in both canyons with radar.
    • An additional rain gauge, bolstering CDOT/USGS’s network of rain gauges in the canyon burn scar area.
    • Constructed “catch” basins west of Cascade at Sand Gulch, Wellington Gulch, Cascade Basin, Rampart Terrace and Rainbow Falls (to be constructed), allowing additional water and debris to be collected “off-road” and away from the highway.
    • Constructing a Debris Encatchment System in Waldo Canyon (up-canyon from the new Super Culvert).
    • Making Channel improvements and reconstructing very west segment of U.S. 24 Business near Rainbow Falls.
    • Installing an Emergency Gate Closure and Camera system.

Additional mitigation projects will be constructed as need and as funding allows.  However, as with other natural events, if Mother Nature decides to create a storm that is above and beyond a “normal” rainfall (such as rainfall of one inch per hour or more), it can overwhelm any manmade mitigation mechanism.

Are there any other flood mitigation projects that have been completed in the Ute Pass area?

A: Yes.  El Paso County and the U.S. Forest Service have constructed a number of projects to help mitigate flooding and debris flow.  However, most of these projects are out of view of the traveling public since they are high above Highway 24.  In addition, although it’s not a project, CDOT is closely involved with the Waldo Canyon "Regional Flood Recovery" group. It seeks to enhance coordination between various affected agencies and meets monthly.

Will all these projects – current and future – eventually end the closures of Highway 24?

A: That’s the ultimate goal but not at the expense of public safety.  CDOT is well aware of the hardship these closures can create for the residents and commuters of U.S. 24. However, following the Waldo Canyon fire, this area has transitioned to a new normal of potential highway closures during the rainy season, at least for the foreseeable future until more foliage growth takes place to protect from erosion and washouts.  As with other areas of the state, such as State Highway 67 north of Woodland Park following the Hayman Fire, I-70 west of Denver and U.S. 550 in southwestern Colorado, US 24 is now more vulnerable to the impact weather and the natural environment can have on the roadways.

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