roads

An accident on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon (pictured above) earlier this week closed the roadway. An east-west route to the south between Gunnison and Montrose on U.S. 50, where a highway construction project had caused delays, is now fully open and provided a detour. (Photo courtesy of CDOT)

The snowstorm that delivered 19 inches of fresh powder over 24 hours was most welcome at the Telluride Ski Resort, and not at all on local roads. Indeed, highways and mountain passes throughout Southwest Colorado — Lizard Head Pass, U.S 550 between Purgatory and Ouray, Highway 65 (Grand Mesa), Wolf Creek Pass — were all closed Wednesday morning due to dangerous driving conditions. For drivers unaware of these safety closures, Wednesday morning travel was likely to come as a rude shock.

How to stay apprised of such closures? The state’s transportation department has a webpage that is the first stop for many, including Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA Colorado.

“CoTrip.org is the best resource” for road conditions statewide, McKinley said. “Some winter drivers prefer the app Waze,” which offers input from drivers, “or Google Maps. Anyone who drives through the high country in winter gets used to the ritual, understands that weather delays are likely, and knows that it takes some extra homework to get where you’re going.”

For further security behind the wheel, McKinley keeps a road atlas with him in his car and recommends “at minimum” a map of the state you’re traveling through, and “where possible” a regional map of where you’re traveling.

“I get a new road atlas every time a new edition comes out,” he said. “It offers extra peace of mind if you’re in a place with no cell service. You can also download a map of where you’re going from Apple or Google Maps to your phone before you leave.”

“Keep at least a quarter-tank — I prefer a half-tank — of gas in your car,” McKinley added, in case of delays (you may need to run the heat to keep warm), or in case a lengthy detour is required, which might have been the case up until recently on U.S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison, when the Little Blue Creek Canyon highway construction project closed the road from 7:30 p.m. on weekdays until the following morning.

On Saturday, the route through Little Blue opened for the winter season to two-way traffic with no delays. Closures will recur this spring, once the weather warms. Visit US50Info.org to sign up for text alerts.

More good news for local drivers arrived recently, in the form of a page from CDOT on Facebook.

“We’re trying different ways to kind of personalize our messaging,” communications manager Stacia Sellers said. “We have a COTrip planner app,” which has acquired several hundred thousand users in the first year of its existence. (The website Cotrip.org itself, which received an upgrade in 2021, has since received over 137 million views.)

Last week, the state’s transportation department added a CDOT News/Southwestern Colorado Facebook group page (Facebook.com/groups/CDOTSouthwestern).

“Expect closures on several mountain passes tomorrow morning, Jan. 18,” the page said on Tuesday night, and then listed each pass’s closure time.

CO 145 Lizard Head Pass travelers would have learned — for example — that the pass was going to close for winter maintenance at 8 a.m.: “Northbound traffic will be stopped just north of Rico (MP 49) and southbound traffic will be stopped near Trout Lake (MP 61).”

And that winter maintenance work on U.S. 550 Red Mountain, Coal Bank and Molas passes, which had all closed earlier on Tuesday, would resume at 6 a.m.

“We’re very good at pushing out messaging on social media,” Sellers said. “We use Twitter, and we know that other government agencies outside Colorado have been using Facebook” to get messages across, “so we’re trying it. “We just created these Facebook groups and launched them last week with specific regional messages. We post statewide messaging,” such as announcements of big storms, “to our Twitter account, too.”

Drivers can also receive text messages about road conditions by registering for an account on CoTrip.org.

“You can sign up for alerts about a specific route, you drive on certain days,” Sellers said. However, “if your route is not on a state highway or interstate, it would not be on CoTrip,” Sellers added.

That is why registering for county emergency messages is important: On Wednesday morning, this reporter received a text that Ophir Road, west of the town of Ophir, was closed due to an avalanche. “County Road and Bridge crews are on the scene,” the missive advised. “It is unknown at this time when the road will reopen.”

San Miguel County’s emergency messaging system was replaced on Jan. 9, and those who have not re-registered must do so again in order to receive alerts. For more information, visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov/732/San-Miguel-County-Alert-and-Warning.