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Keeping the Highway Safe

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – Maintaining safe roadways in an area that faces both flooding and wildfires has been a challenge since the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in El Paso County.

The catastrophic fire burned more than 18,000 acres and left a burn scar that does not absorb water. Because of the burn scar, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials are concerned that frequent rain storms can send floodwaters and debris over stretches of U.S. Highway 24, quickly turning into a catastrophic event.

Traffic on U.S. Highway 24, a key route between Colorado Springs and communities in the foothills and mountains to the west, averages 25,000 vehicles per day.

On July 9, 2012, an afternoon rainstorm caused a mudslide that left charred logs, mud, rocks and ash on Highway 24 just west of Cascade, four miles northwest of Colorado Springs. CDOT closed one lane of the road each way.

Several mitigation measures have been incorporated to address the risk. CDOT stabilized slopes on the north side of Highway 24 and installed sediment traps, cutoff walls and expanded culverts. About $75,000 was spent to stabilize the Fountain Creek embankment to prevent erosion south of the highway below the Rainbow Falls Bridge.

Another mitigation effort in El Paso County involved building ponds to collect sediment from floodwaters.

“We have four ponds that absolutely help by holding the debris”, said Dave Watt, CDOT’s resident engineer. “These ponds are cleaned out by the maintenance department after every flood event.”

CDOT established a new protocol requiring maintenance crews to actively patrol Highway 24 in the Waldo Canyon burn area between Manitou Springs and Cascade, 24 hours a day, seven days a week during severe weather.

When the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning or when more than ¼-inch of rain in an hour is detected in gauges, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol close the highway. The highway remains closed until the warning is lifted, debris is removed and the road is once again safe to travel.

Electronic signs along Highway 24 display current weather conditions and forecasts.

This allows CDOT to spread the word in case storm water events are anticipated.

“Nothing is foolproof but all efforts give us a better chance of keeping the highway open,” Watt said. “The goal is to maintain a reliable Highway 24 to benefit the Ute Pass and Cripple Creek areas.”

For additional information, visit: www.springsgov.com/

Last updated June 3, 2020