The Waldo Canyon burn scar has created a dangerous situation for the Highway 24 corridor.
Gary Heller, highway maintenance supervisor with the Colorado Department of Transportation, explains the effects of fire with a “golf course versus parking lot” analogy.
“If you can imagine (the mountain) being all grass, like a golf course, when it rains, water on a golf course gets absorbed by the grass. Well, if you change that dynamic to where, now, you look at that same mountain and you went up there and paved it like a parking lot, there’s no absorption. So, now every bit of water that used to absorb up there is now transported by that scorched ground down onto the lower ground which may be the drainage system or the highway,” said Heller.
Heller said this issue has prompted CDOT to implement a plan to mitigate the effects of flash floods and mudslides on the public.
According to Heller, CDOT has 45 dump trucks on standby, five pieces of excavating equipment positioned on either side of the burn, a series of cones along Highway 24 that indicate troublesome areas and they plan to deploy at least one snowplow during flash flood warnings.
“Our snow removal equipment does dual purposes. It also pushes rocks and debris off so during those flash flood warnings we’ll have people out watching the highway and pushing small debris off and giving us an early warning if we need to mobilize larger equipment,” said Heller.
Heller explained CDOT is also taking preventative measure by cleaning culverts, in an attempt to mitigate the threat of debris clogging the culverts and forcing water onto the roadways.
CDOT also has specified plans if there are lane closures due to flooding or slides.
“Our immediate concern is that the traveling public doesn’t get stuck in something like that and that we can respond in a rapid enough fashion that we can come in and take care of and provide a safe roadway,” he said.
Heller said CDOT is also analyzing long-term solutions. One of these solutions includes positioning rain gauges near the burn scar, so teams will be able to identify when enough rain has fallen to cause flash flood conditions.
Another solution is to increase the effectiveness of warnings displayed on roadway signs, with an increase in lighting on these signs a possibility.
Heller said CDOT was the first on the scene when a mudslide temporarily forced the closure of Highway 24. Heller said the snowplows were able to efficiently open two lanes to get traffic flowing once again.
“It’s kind of like the mentality of a tornado or a hurricane, you can’t predict when they’re going to be there and you can’t stop that they’re going to happen. The least you can do is try to mitigate what they do and protect the public with early warning,” said Heller.