Travelers using U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs will face some severe delays over the next month as the Colorado Department of Transportation upgrades a culvert under the highway near the mouth of Waldo Canyon.
According to CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson, the $1.4 million flood mitigation work began Wednesday. Wilson said one lane in each direction will be closed until 6 p.m. daily through Friday. Crews will work full force beginning Saturday, when CDOT will shut down both eastbound lanes around the clock. The westbound side of the divided highway will have one lane open in each direction.
"People will have to add a little extra time for their travels," Wilson said.
According to Wilson, the eastbound lanes will be closed for about two weeks. Once the culvert is installed under that side of the highway, the project will shift and the westbound lanes will be closed.
Wilson said CDOT will install a 24-foot wide and 10-foot high culvert that will be "10 times larger than the pipe that's under the highway right now." He said the current 72-inch pipe is a choke point when heavy rains hit the more than 18,000 acre Waldo Canyon burn area. The fire that began June 23, 2012, destroyed 347 homes in western Colorado Springs and killed two people.
CDOT estimates the culvert project will be finished by the end of April.
"Our goal is to get this done before the rainy season, especially before the monsoon season this summer," Wilson said.
The area along U.S. 24 near Manitou Springs was plagued by multiple flash floods in July and August 2013 when rainwater, mud, rocks and other debris poured down the burn scar. Several homes in Mantiou Springs were destroyed and a man from Divide died in one of the torrents raging down the ash-laden slopes, which won't absorb hard and fast rains.
CDOT, Manitou Springs and county officials have scrambled to do flood mitigation work in the area since the floods.
CDOT has worked at multiple sites along U.S. 24 since the first flash flood hit the area July 30, 2012. Crews shored up a portion of the road below Rainbow Falls on the west end of Manitou Springs when floodwaters began to undermine the slope under the highway. A retaining wall was built and erosion-control work was done just north of the highway near Wellington Gulch in Cascade.
CDOT joined forces with the U.S. Geologic Survey in December 2013 to install flow gauges and a webcam to predict when the highway should be shut down as dangerous debris flows come off the steep slopes in the Pike National Forest.
The July 2012 incident and flash floods during the summer of 2013 prompted several closures whenever the skies turned gray and rain was predicted over the burn scar. Many of those kept U.S. 24 traffic at a standstill for less than two hours. But CDOT officials hope the monitoring equipment will streamline the process for deciding when closures are needed.
Money for the culvert project comes from $5.5 million in federal and state funds given to CDOT specifically for flood work, Wilson said his department hopes the new culvert will help protect property and life further downstream.
"It will enhance safety when we're going through those storms," he said.