(CBS4) – Hikers and cyclists, you’re in the clear. But the more than 200,000 annual visitors from around the world who prefer to drive a car on the highest paved road in North America will be turned away in 2020. The Colorado Department of Transportation, the USDA Forest Service, and Denver Mountain Parks — the agencies that jointly manage the highway and facilities atop 14,264-foot Mount Evans — reached this decision “after careful consideration of both health and safety risks and economic feasibility,” the agencies stated Thursday in a combined press release.
The 14-mile stretch of State Highway 5 will not open to motorized vehicles this summer primarily due to concerns over COVID-19, but also because the already shortened season this year created financial difficulties.
The Mount Evans Highway typically opens to vehicles between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. This year’s opening had already been delayed until early July.
“Mount Evans operates entirely on fee collections,” Reid Armstrong of the Forest Service told CBS. “A thorough fiscal analysis determined that the cost of operating Mount Evans for an abbreviated season with limited services, additional protective equipment for employees, and metered visitor entry would create a steep operating budget deficit that would impact the ability of the mountain to open next year. By not operating Mount Evans in 2020, 2019’s collections can be used to operate Mount Evans for a full season in 2021.”
Operators also doubted the ability — their’s and the public’s — to manage social distancing at the summit during the current health crisis.
Hiking and cycling are allowed now, though CDOT will take advantage of the restricted access to conduct road repairs.
The public restrooms at the summit parking lot will remained locked.
Extremely limited parking is expected in the areas approaching the turnoff that marks the beginning of the highway.
Armstrong also warned users to recognize the additional lag time for any emergency response, and asked those who do go to reduce risk-related activities with that in mind.
Construction began on the road in July of 1923. It was completed in 1930 and opened the following year. The road is 20 feet higher than the Pikes Peak Highway.