Independence Pass between Aspen and Lake County. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
Independence Pass between Aspen and Lake County. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

ASPEN — The Colorado Department of Transportation has announced that Colorado 82 over Independence Pass will remain closed until at least June 1 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The highway usually opens the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, which would have been May 21 this year. But multiple counties requested the closure be extended to curtail unnecessary travel, The Aspen Times reported.

“CDOT understands the COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique situation and we support Pitkin County, Lake County, the Independence Pass Foundation and the Forest Service in keeping the communities safe and in control of visitors to these counties,” the department said in a statement.

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Several reasons led to the extension request, including the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to keep national forest facilities such as bathrooms closed, Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet said. Lodging in Pitkin and Lake counties has also been closed, and opening the pass could send a mixed message, he said.

It would be a loss for the environment to have travelers pursing recreational activities without open facilities, Pettet said.

“That road is just another transportation valve,” Pettet said. “It draws a tremendous amount of visitors.”

With the extended closure, transportation crews now have more time to clear snow to the summit and perform additional duties such as repairing pavement and replacing guardrails, officials said.

It is unclear when the highway will reopen, but the department is working with partnering agencies to determine a date, transportation spokesperson Elise Thatcher said.

CDOT also says that Mount Evans Highway will remain closed until at least July because of the virus.

“Opening the highway would make it more difficult for tourists to practice social distancing, as more than 200,000 people from all over the world visit the summit of Mount Evans while the road is open,” the agency said in a news release. “On weekends, thousands of vehicles pass through the fee stations, and visitors gather at the summit, visit the nature center, attend interpretive programs and wait in lines to use the restroom facilities in large numbers, creating a challenge in properly managing social distancing.”