A popular local gateway to Manitou Springs from Hwy. 24 has been reopened, another sign that normality is returning to the Ute Pass following a summer of natural disasters.
Last week, officials completed their work on this highly used highway entrance to the tourist town that was bombarded by floods last summer. A half-mile stretch of business U.S. Hwy. 24 in Manitou was closed on Aug. 9 after two sections were washed out by flooding. The repair work, which also involved fixing the Fountain Creek Bridge, was estimated at a little less than $500,000, according to Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson. “Access to mainline U.S. Hwy. 24 is now back to normal,” said Wilson.
This section connects the west end of Manitou Springs to U.S. 24, and is the main route that Teller motorists use when accessing Manitou. The reopening of this link is important as for nearly three months the community has struggled with the perception that it is closed for business. The floods, a byproduct of the Waldo Canyon burn scar and record rains, damaged many businesses and homes in Manitou Springs, and left merchants and residents on the edge for most of the spring and fall. Many vehicles were washed off Hwy. 24 near Manitou and a popular Divide resident was killed.
For much of August and September, the main highway was shut down almost on a daily basis, posing challenges for commuters. Although the Manitou Springs’ entrance is now open, it will be shut down briefly this week for curb and drainage work.
Mitigation work, meanwhile, continues on Hwy. 24. Within the near future, storm gates will be installed that automatically shut down the road in the lower Ute Pass during flood-related alerts and major storms, similar to those used in the snow country. This will save the costs of manning the road on a 24-hour basis.
Millions of dollars will be pumped into providing better highway barriers to curb against flooding waters. But officials caution that these improvements are mere band-aid fixes to a situation that could be a problem for the next decade due to the burn scar. For the last two years, the road closures associated with Hwy. 24 have significantly impacted the local tourism and gaming industries.