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Highways reopen in Southwest Colorado after blizzard conditions pass

On Thursday, Colorado Department of Transportation crews cleared snow from avalanche slide paths along the U.S. Highway 550 mountain corridor south of Molas Pass. U.S. 550 between Purgatory and Silverton was opened late Thursday afternoon. (Colorado Department of Transportation)
Crews remove snow from high passes, U.S. 491 near Utah

Highways that were closed from a snowstorm Wednesday and Thursday have reopened, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

On Friday, CDOT crews continued snow-removal operations on U.S. Highway 160 Wolf Creek Pass, U.S. 550 Red Mountain Pass and Colorado Highway 17 Cumbres and La Manga passes.

By 1 p.m. Friday, Wolf Creek Pass had reopened with icy and snowpacked road conditions. Commercial vehicle chain law and passenger vehicle traction law are in effect.

At 2:20 p.m. Red Mountain Pass between Silverton and Ouray had reopened.

U.S. Highway 491 has reopened. It closed Thursday at 6 p.m. in Dolores County from Road G to the Utah state line because stalled vehicles impeded by snowy road conditions, according to the Dolores County Emergency Alert System.

Colorado Highway 17 at Cumbres and La Manga Passes southwest of Antonitio opened at 12:30 p.m. and had intermittent closures to allow for snow clearing.

U.S. 491 hit hard

Numerous semitrailers and vehicles were stranded or crashed on U.S. Highway 491 during the intense snowstorm Wednesday and Thursday, according to Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin and CDOT reports.

Nowlin said there were no fatalities.

“There were a lot of vehicles off the road, quite a few stranded semis. We have been very busy,” he said.

On Wednesday, the road closed about 8 a.m. from Lewis to Dove Creek because of blizzard conditions, snowpacked roads, high winds and low visibility, said CDOT public information officer Lisa Schwantes.

It reopened at 1:45 p.m., then at 2: 50 p.m. a 3-mile section near Dove Creek closed because of a vehicle crash, and the highway reopened at 5:45 p.m.

At 6 p.m. Thursday the road was closed from Dove Creek to the Utah state line because of stalled vehicles, according to the Dolores County Emergency Alert system. It reopened at 11:30 p.m. under “treacherous” conditions.

Poor road conditions, lack of proper chains for semis, and bad driving contributed to many problems, Nowlin said.

One incident Wednesday on U.S. Highway 491 involved a jackknifed semitrailer and seven to 10 cars that crashed into one another or slid off the road, Nowlin said. A semitrailer also jackknifed on Colorado Highway 145 near Dolores Wednesday morning.

On Friday morning in Dolores, a driver on Colorado Highway 145 lost control on slick roads and crashed into the Dolores Chamber of Commerce sign, Nowlin said. The driver was cited for careless driving, and the sign was totaled.

U.S. Highway 491 between Cortez and Monticello, Utah, is notorious for getting slammed by snowstorms that cause white out conditions from high winds.

“It’s a unique stretch of highway in the Four Corners,” Schwantes said. “It has high plains characteristics with blowing and drifting snow that creates low visibility. It is a real challenge for commercial truckers.”

She said CDOT works closely with plow crews, Dolores and Montezuma county sheriffs and Colorado State Patrol to monitor the stretch during snowstorms and to make closure determinations.

On Thursday during closures of Colorado Highway 145, CDOT crews conducted avalanche controls between Rico and Lizard Head Pass. One avalanche triggered brought down 6 feet of snow onto the highway, Schwantes said.

Passes in southwestern and south-central Colorado passes are open, but travelers should be aware that closures may occur at any time because of weather events and snow-removal operations. Travelers are encouraged to check COtrip.org for updates.