As of Tuesday evening, there was no estimated time for when Independence Pass will reopen, though Colorado Department of Transportation officials said that they would re-evaluate the situation Wednesday morning, once weather conditions were more stable.
Colorado State Patrol requested that the pass be closed after a single-vehicle accident near the summit of the 12,095-foot road in which a man was transported via ambulance to Aspen Valley Hospital with a leg injury Tuesday afternoon, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy of Operations Parker Lathrop said.
Responders from PCSO, Aspen Fire Protection District and Aspen Ambulance all assisted on the call, and the Colorado Department of Transportation closed the pass “once our folks were past the closure gate,” Lathrop continued.
That was at about 1:45 p.m. — at 2:25 p.m. Tuesday, a Pitkin Alert notified that Independence Pass, between Highway 82 mile markers 47-72, was closed in both directions due to weather and road conditions.
“Conditions up there are pretty treacherous,” Lathrop said.
In the meantime, PCSO officials encouraged travelers to defer to the CDOT website for updates and alternative routes, at cotrip.org. But on Tuesday evening, the new iteration of the website — which launched Sept. 29 and features a new 511 map — had a message that could have been misinterpreted.
“Between County Road 24 (Independence Pass) and Benedict Drive (Aspen) from Mile Point 81 to Mile Point 42. Road closed expect delays due to winter conditions,” the website read Tuesday evening, adding, “Until May 5, 2022 at about 12:00 PM MDT.”
Elise Thatcher and Tracy Trulove, both CDOT spokespeople, assured that Tuesday’s closure was specific to the event and weather and was not an early seasonal closure.
“A safety closure is in place due to road conditions during the storm. There was a crash. … The closure has no estimated time of reopening and will last overnight. It is NOT the seasonal closure. Our new system has some bugs,” Thatcher, a regional communications manager, said via email.
Trulove, who also works in communications for Pitkin County, said that Tuesday would have been early to enact a seasonal closure, especially given the safety closures that have and continue to occur through Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70 due to flash flood warnings because of the heightened chances of debris flow from the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.
“I had not heard from CDOT that they were going to close Independence Pass [seasonally],” she said Tuesday. “This would still be kind of early. … Typically, the maintenance team would continue to plow even when there are some snow events.”
Rather, Trulove said, the decision to maintain the closure overnight was based on the weather forecast.
At 7:25 p.m. Tuesday, cotrip.org warned of “snow with ice and snow packs” on Independence Pass, between mile markers 41.9 and 67.4, and at about 8:35 p.m., the National Weather Service in Grand Junction issued a winter weather advisory for the Aspen area above 9,000 feet.
“Plan on slippery road conditions. Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility,” the advisory warns.