Red Mountain Pass reopens after rock slides

Monday, July 9, 2018 5:42 PM
More than 4 feet of mud and rock covered U.S. Highway 550 about 2 miles south of Ouray on Sunday. The highway remained closed Monday while crews assessed damage to the highway.

Red Mountain Pass reopened late Monday afternoon, a day after a rock slide buried U.S. Highway 550 in up to 10 feet of rock and mud.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed the highway about 5 p.m. Sunday. Maintenance crews cleared rock and mud from 4 to 10 feet deep in some areas, according to a CDOT press release Monday.

“Heavy rains in the high country yesterday resulted in flooding and debris flows blocking the highway,” John Palmer, CDOT deputy superintendent of maintenance, said in the press release. “To ensure the safety of the traveling public and our maintenance crews while they operated heavy equipment, the highway was closed through the night and today for clearing and damage assessment.”

On Monday, CDOT engineering and maintenance staff assessed possible damage to the roadway and structures including cribwalls.

“Cribwalls are essentially retaining structures which stabilize the road surface. They are designed to support highways which have steep drop-offs,” said Kevin Curry, a CDOT engineer.

CDOT also said geotechnical staff from its headquarters in Denver were en route to the Red Mountain Pass site for additional inspections.

The main rock slide occurred about 2 miles south of Ouray, but multiple stretches of the highway experienced flooding and debris flows.

The rock slide was the result of heavy rain in the high country.

“We have not had any moisture, so when we suddenly get a downpour, that water doesn’t necessarily soak into the ground like it should,” said CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes. “... It looks like this came from way up high.”

Those who may have been recreating Sunday in the backcountry along the closure area were escorted off the highway.

The Durango Herald contributed to this article.