The days of avalanches catching drivers unawares along U.S. 50 over Monarch Pass may slowly become a thing of the past, or at least become fewer than in recent years. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has announced that it will install a new avalanche control system on U.S. 50 on Monarch Pass. Work will begin Aug. 5 in the area about 15 miles west of Poncha Springs.

Construction will include a control shelter to house the equipment and installation of the new, remote avalanche control system in what is a known snow slide path on the roadway, between mile marker 201 and 202, just below the Monarch Ski Area. In heavy snow years, slides in this area have caused frequent closures of U.S. 50.

CDOT avalanche work on Monarch Pass. (Photo courtesy of CDOT)

There will be some travel impacts during construction, which is expected to be completed by October 2019, weather cooperating. However, CDOT says it will be kept to a minimum.

Crews will be working Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be no weekend construction. That said, CDOT says that motorists should see minimal traffic impacts because most of the work will be off the highway.

There will be a couple of full eastbound and westbound lane closures during rock scaling work. CDOT is expected to limit them to a total of 10 closures of 20-minute intervals during the entire project.

Midwest Rockfall Inc., based in Henderson, is the primary contractor. The project was awarded with an estimated cost of $366,000.

This project is part of CDOT’s program known as Whole System — Whole Safety. CDOT says the new system, which is more reliable and safer for CDOT personnel to operate, will provide more efficient avalanche control, making the area safer for the traveling public.

CDOT currently operates more than 30 remote systems at several locations on high mountain highways and the I-70 mountain corridor. Every winter CDOT and its sister agency, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, regularly monitor and control some 278 of 522 known avalanche paths located above Colorado highways. This past winter, the avalanche conditions were particularly dangerous.

CDOT says the monitoring and mitigation help prevent natural avalanches from impacting public travel. When there is a high risk of avalanche danger, CDOT regularly shuts down portions of highways at the location of the avalanche path in order to conduct avalanche control operations. They trigger avalanches to lessen the snow load and assign maintenance crews to clear the highway of snow and debris that reaches the road.

CDOT manages 23,000 lane miles of Colorado roads, as well as 3,429 bridges. Citizens interested in getting email announcements about the closure can sign up at US50Shelter@gmail.com, call 970-373-1584, or visit the project website at www.codot.gov/projects/monarch-pass-avalanche-control-shelter.