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Some U.S. 24 commuters say flood work delays worth it to make highway safer

February 23, 2014 Updated: February 23, 2014 at 5:07 am
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Flood control mitigation begins on US Route 24 to prepare the stretch of road for future floods from occurring. Photo by Mason Trinca, The Gazette

One night soon after culvert construction started on U.S. 24, traffic was a nightmare.

A crash coupled with work on a culvert near the mouth of Waldo Canyon that reduced westbound traffic to a single lane slowed traffic to a crawl Tuesday evening.

It was, said Bob Wilson, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, "the perfect storm."

Traffic has eased since then, he and others who travel that highway said Friday.

"We've had no problems since Tuesday," he said. "Since then, traffic has been flowing pretty smoothly through there."

It all starts, or stops, with the culvert.

The $1.4 million flood mitigation project, which began Feb. 12, is designed to help prevent severe flooding in the area sparked by rain on the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar.

The area along U.S. 24 near Manitou Springs was hit by flash flooding in July and August when a deadly mix of water, mud, rocks and other debris roared down the burn scar, wiping out homes in Manitou Springs. One man from Divide was killed when his vehicle was caught in floodwater on the highway.

As much as commuters don't like the occasional slowdowns - mostly between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. - they say flooding would be far worse.

U.S. 24 is the main east-west route into Woodland Park and the casinos in Cripple Creek.

"Most people are understanding because they know it needs to be done," said Audrea Brickell, operations administrative manager at Wildwood Casino in Cripple Creek.

"We have several employees down there, and they leave a little early," she said. "Getting that fixed now and not having the same problems next year, I think everybody is OK with that."

The Transportation Department, Wilson said, "needs to get the project done this time of year before the rainy season and tourist season starts."

The project is slated for completion by the end of April.

Meantime, there will be another 11/2 weeks of single-lane traffic through the area in the westbound lanes. Then, the project will switch sides and traffic will be one lane in each direction on the eastbound side of the highway, Wilson said.

There are options if traffic starts to pile up. One is a courtesy patrol for car breakdowns and crashes.

"We do this on I-70 west of Denver on weekends," Wilson said. "We station tow trucks in the area to take vehicles off the highway to keep the road cleared."

Another alternative would be to offer the contractor incentives to speed up the project and get it done sooner.

Neither is necessary right now, Wilson said.

At Ramblin Express, a charter bus company that provides service to Cripple Creek casinos, drivers aren't complaining about the traffic on 24, said Casey Jones, a dispatcher.

"I haven't heard any of my drivers say that anything is wrong or that there are any delays," she said. "If things are bad, or not working, they usually let me know."

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