The state highway department plans to close the 14-mile-long Mount Evans Scenic Byway sometime between Aug. 10 and 23 for a few days to repair heaving asphalt and crumbling pavement.
The road is riddled with potholes so deep that marmots have set up housekeeping in them.
The exact dates of the possible closure have not been determined, but CDOT would like to get the work done before the Democratic National Convention begins Aug. 26, said CDOT’s Brian Pinkerton, district 1 program engineer. The convention is expected to create a significant amount of additional tourist traffic.
CDOT representatives, the chief of the Clear Creek Ranger district and several cycling advocates held a meeting last week to discuss road conditions and possible solutions.
The status of the road from a safety standpoint is the responsibility of the state and is not the purview of the U.S. Forest Service, which is responsible for the summit facilities and for collecting fees. The fee-collection process is the subject of a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver. Usage fees do not apply to the road.
Mike Raber, a member of the Clear Creek Bikeway Advocacy Team, said the most damage is on the part of the road beyond Summit Lake, which is about 5 miles from the summit. There is also a section where one side is crumbling and falling off the edge.
It’s not really a problem for cyclists, but “it would be prudent for only one car to go through at a time,” said Raber, who has been cycling on the Mount Evans road since 1971.
The marmots have dug into the potholes and created tunnels under the road and sometimes pop their heads out as cyclists ride by, Raber said.
Dan Lovato, Forest Service district ranger, said the heaving road is contributing to bicycle and motorcycle accidents.
“If they are going too fast, they can get bounced off. It’s like a roller coaster,” Lovato said.
Colorado Highway 5 follows a serpentine course from the entry station at Echo Lake and Highway 103 and climbs from 10,500 feet to the summit at 14,230 feet, making it the highest paved highway in North America.
“We are concerned about the condition of the road. It just needs to be addressed,” Lovato said, referring to a news article mentioning the Mount Evans Scenic Byway as one of the top five things to do during the convention.
The classic Mount Evans byway built in the 1920s may be one of the crown jewels of tourism in Colorado, but it is beginning to show its age.
The road is crumbling at the edges over a lengthy drop-off in the Lincoln Lake area and, in another, the forces of nature have created a hazardous stretch of 2- to 3-foot-tall speed bumps. Both locations are close to Summit Lake.
“It’s hard for cars to pass,” said Pinkerton. “If a big vehicle comes by, they would have to stop and inch along.”
“The edge of the road is just falling down the mountainside,” he said. There is no guardrail and the drop-off is at least 100 feet or more.
“We are going to try to do something immediately. We got the cones up there and put signs up indicating road damage. When I drove through it, the Forest Service had rangers posted, saying, ‘Take it real easy.’ ”
In the next couple of weeks, Pinkerton said, workers will installing delineator posts along the edge of the road to get people’s attention. They will also paint a white stripe where the asphalt has dropped off.
At the point where the frost-thaw cycle caused the road to heave, there will be a portable, solar-powered message sign warning of rough road ahead.
“We are going to try to add some asphalt to the mountain side of the road to get more room to maneuver,” Pinkerton said.
CDOT plans to fill in the waves and make the road level enough to get through the rest of the year. It may go so far as to move the center line.
Some observers estimate the Mount Evans Highway is in dire need of an $8 million makeover.
“We don’t have a cost estimate, but $8 million is probably not a bad number,” Pinkerton said. “There really needs an overlay from Summit Lake to the top ee . Other than the (fixes) we are doing, there is no plan.”
Mount Evans facts
• The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved highway in North America.
• The road to Mount Evans is known as a “cherry stem” road, meaning the road is state property and is not part of the Mount Evans Wilderness.
• The parking lot at the top of Mount Evans and the amenities are part of the U.S. Forest Service system.
• The Mount Evans fee generates about $300,000 a year for more restrooms, more cleaning, ranger talks and interpretive programs.
• The road to the summit is maintained by the state highway department. It typically opens on Memorial Day and remains open as conditions permit.
• A vehicle pass is $10 and covers the use of the parking facilities and the amenities. There is no charge for the use of the state highway.