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McClure Pass, Castle Creek Road reopen after avalanches

Cars drive under the remaining snow from an avalanche slide on Castle Creek Road near mile marker 3.5 outside of Aspen on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Coming off this week’s big winter storm cycle, roads in and near Pitkin County were hit with avalanches.

Castle Creek Road outside of Aspen closed early Thursday afternoon about 3.5 miles up from the roundabout because of an avalanche, according to Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta. He said the county’s road department had a couple of plows there to clear the road, and it reopened by late afternoon.

McClure Pass near Marble closed Thursday morning because of a snowslide, and reopened just after 7 p.m., according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Highway 133 was closed over McClure Pass between Buzzard Divide Road (mile point 37) and Marble Road (MP 46).

McClure Pass closed due to avalanche

UPDATE: The Colorado Department of Transportation now estimates it will be 6:30 p.m. before McClure Pass south of Carbondale can be reopened.

Colorado Highway 133 is closed over McClure Pass between Buzzard Divide Road (mile point 37) and Marble Road (MP 46), CoTrip.org reports Thursday.

Four CSP vehicles have been struck on I-70 mountain corridor last week

Colorado State Trooper Jacob Best's patrol vehicle after being sideswiped in Glenwood Canyon on Sunday.
Courtesy photo

When Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jacob Best’s cruiser was sideswiped recently during a snowstorm on the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, that was the least of the damage.

“Not 30 seconds after that, a vehicle in the right lane lost control, and came into the scene and rear-ended my vehicle, which almost struck another trooper who was on foot,” Best said.

It was one of four separate incidents in which State Patrol vehicles have been struck by motorists on the I-70 mountain corridor between Eisenhower tunnel and Glenwood Springs in the past week.

Two highway patrol officers have had minor injuries; Best said the incidents serve as a reminder to everyone else of how dangerous conditions are for those working I-70 this week.

“We’re just asking for everyone’s patience and to slow down and drive with due regard, so everyone gets to their destination safely,” Best said.

Best said the vehicle that sideswiped his patrol cruiser was being driven by an Eagle County resident. The tires on the vehicle were “completely bald,” Best said.

“Sometimes, the visitors are blamed for these closures or spun-out vehicles, but to be frankly honest, the majority of violators that we are dealing with are Colorado residents,” Best said.

Best was working with a single-lane open on the interstate when his vehicle was hit, and he said it’s a good example of why first responders often opt to close the highway altogether rather than deal with the danger of a single-lane open situation.

“These safety closures have helped us in the long run, reducing closure times,” Best said.

That’s what happened in the Dec. 27 extended closure of I-70 in Vail, when a one-hour scheduled closure for avalanche mitigation turned into a three-hour closure.

“A multi-car crash in Officer’s Gulch was what extended that closure out, it didn’t actually have anything to do with the avalanche clearing,” Best said. “We were clearing the crashes in Summit County, and as a precaution we closed it in Vail.“

In the hours before the Dec. 27 extended closure, another closure had occurred on Vail Pass when a crash on the westbound side of I-70 closed the interstate heading into Vail.

“Just near the top of the pass, we had a truck going slow, and another truck swerve to miss that truck, and it ended up in the snowbank with another car going in the other snowbank,” Best said. “We had to get tows in there to pull them out backwards.”

A Colorado State Patrol vehicle with rear end damage is seen after being struck by a motorist on the snowy I-70 mountain corridor this week.
Courtesy image

 

I-70 reopens Friday through Glenwood Canyon after warning expires for Grizzly Creek burn scar

Interstate 70 has reopened Friday night through Glenwood Canyon after a flash flood warning expired for the Grizzly Creek burn scar and the road was checked for debris.

Colorado Department of Transportation crews “did a sweep of the canyon to ensure no slide materials entered the interstate and have deemed it safe to reopen,” the agency said just after 6:30 p.m.

CDOT crews will remain on standby at closure points in case there are future rain events this evening, officials said. For those traveling through Glenwood Canyon over the holiday weekend, there is a chance Saturday that a weak storm is capable of brief light rain on the burn scar, according to forecasters. Sunday and Monday should be pleasant and dry, CDOT said.

The National Weather service issued the flash flood warning Friday afternoon.

UPDATE: I-70 westbound reopens at Dotsero

UPDATE 6:28 P.M.: Interstate 70 westbound at Dotsero is now reopened.

Interstate 70 westbound was closed just east of Glenwood Canyon due to a crash, according to a Garfield County alert sent out just after 4:30 p.m.

 

I-70 reopens through Glenwood Canyon early Friday morning

CDOT crews worked Thursday to clear three small debris slides in the Glenwood Canyon after a day of rain.
CDOT courtesy photo

Despite recording more than 3 inches of rain in some areas since Wednesday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Transportation opened Interstate 70 early Friday morning.

“Crews cleared a couple more small material slides at mile points 120.6, 120.7 WB and 130 EB between 2:45-4:45 a.m. today but have now reopened the canyon,” according to an update sent just after 5 a.m. Friday.

CDOT officials will monitor Friday’s weather forecasts and will go back into a safety closure should the National Weather Service issue a flash flood warning.

Motorists should plan for slower speeds and congestion through the canyon, especially at MP 123.5 where traffic is in the temporary one lane configuration, according to CDOT. The westbound lane closure is a half-mile long and eastbound is 1.5 miles.

Late Thursday night, CDOT said crews were “encouraged by how well the canyon landscape weathered over 3 inches of rain that fell over a 24-hour period.” CDOT crews worked Thursday to clear up three small debris slides in the canyon.

“Rain gauges throughout the area measured over three inches of rain in several locations,” according to the Thursday night update. “CDOT will continue to follow the same standard traffic safety and detour procedures that have been in place during the previous closure as forecasts dictate. The repairs in Glenwood Canyon have held up through this weather event so far.”

CDOT originally closed I-70 in both directions through Glenwood Canyon at mile points 133 (Dotsero) and MP 116 (Glenwood Springs) at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18, due to a flash flood warning.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

UPDATE: I-70 reopens through Glenwood Canyon

UPDATE 5:29 P.M. SUNDAY, AUG. 15: Interstate 70 is once again open through Glenwood Canyon, a Garfield County alert states.

Interstate 70 was closed in both directions between Glenwood Springs and Dotsero, a Garfield County alert sent out shortly before 5 p.m. stated.

“I-70 is closed between mile markers 116 to the 133 both directions, Glenwood Canyon, due to a safety closure,” the release stated.

The closure comes less than two days after the interstate reopened following the longest closure in history due to mud slides in late July.

I-70 reopens through Glenwood Canyon

Gov. Polis announces an “ahead of schedule” reopening for the interstate

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis looks at a map of drainages inside Glenwood Canyon created by the White River National Forest Service while touring the debris slide damage to Interstate 70 on Wednesday morning. Polis announced the reopening of I-70 on Saturday morning, Aug. 14.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon is now open, Gov. Jared Polis announced in a news release around 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

“Our team has worked tirelessly to get Glenwood Canyon on I-70 opened as soon as possible, and we have made each minute count. I’m thrilled that we are delivering a few hours ahead of schedule. Every moment counts. I want to thank Shoshana Lew for her leadership on this effort as CDOT has worked day and night to safely clear a path. It has been an all-hands-on-deck effort to get the canyon reopened from the mudslides which covered parts of the highway with 15 feet of rock and sludge,” Polis said.

The stretch of I-70 between Dotsero and Glenwood Springs initially closed July 29 after unprecedented monsoonal rains showered between 2 to 4 inches in about an hour throughout Glenwood Canyon.

This caused substantial debris flows stemming from the Grizzly Creek burn scar to envelope sections of both eastbound and westbound lanes on I-70.

Not only did the July 29 rain cause major infrastructural damage, a surge of heavy mud, rock and loose earth initially trapped more than 100 motorists either in the Hanging Lake Tunnels area or in the nearby Bair Ranch exit. Everyone was eventually evacuated by CDOT crews with the assistance of Colorado Highway Patrol.

“A similar rainfall event occurred overnight between Saturday, July 31 and Sunday Aug. 1, 2021. I-70 has been closed since the first of these two major storm events on July 29,” CDOT Chief Engineer Stephen Harelson wrote in Aug. 8 letters sent to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, which included assessment surveys and requests for funding. “The slides that closed the road earlier in July inundated the facility with mud but did only moderate damage to the infrastructure. The storms of July 29, 2021 and Aug. 1, 2021 caused considerable damage to at least four discrete structures in the Canyon and possibly more that will only be known when the debris is removed from the affected areas.”

The monumental disaster is considered by National Weather Service officials to be a 500-year event.

“At the Blue Gulch drainage, Westbound I-70 experienced the loss of the uphill barrier, culvert inlet drop structure, post tensioned slab overhang, parapet and structure rail,” Harelson wrote. “In some areas, the post tensioned slab is intact but the parapet has been removed and the post tensioned strands are compromised.”

Initial estimates put the cost of repairs at $116 million — which Gov. Jared Polis requested on Aug. 6 from the federal government. That amount, Harelson writes, could change in the weeks to come.

“We are performing damage assessments throughout the area,” Harelson writes. “At this time it is not possible to provide exact cost estimates, however, damage to Federal-aid highways is currently estimated at $116 million. CDOT expects to be able to provide a more accurate estimate in 8-10 weeks.”

The catastrophe marked one of many debris flows to have occurred in Glenwood Canyon throughout the summer.

Harelson stated that “at least 19 separate debris flow events” have been recorded in Glenwood Canyon between June 26 and Aug. 3. Meanwhile, flash flood warnings alone caused CDOT officials to close I-70 in Glenwood Canyon 12 times between June 26 and July 28.

In addition to mitigation and repair efforts on I-70, CDOT said alternate routes such as Cottonwood Pass will also likely require $50 million for improvements to withstand heavier traffic while also providing resiliency.

“In addition to the immediate roadway damage, the debris flows have severely impacted the Colorado River. There are approximately five locations where debris flows have severely obstructed the river flow at this time,” Harelson stated. “At several locations, the debris deposited in the river has created river-wide obstructions raising the river water level over the multi-use recreational path and threatening the eastbound I-70 retaining walls and multi-use recreational path with increased scour and damage.”

ESTIMATED COSTS FOR DEBRIS FLOW MITIGATION

● CDOT administration (non-maintenance staff) costs = $1 million

● Debris removal costs (includes maintenance staff costs) = $4 million

● Supplemental traffic control services (contractor) costs = $1 million

● Visible damage estimates caused by event damage or debris removal hauling costs = $20 million

● Assumed damage repair estimates (non-visible) costs = $20 million

● Potential geohazard mitigation at several locations = $5 million

● Construction Management and Construction Engineering costs = $5 million

● Impacts to existing State Highway alternate routes (as a result of I-70 closure) costs = $10 million

● Future Resiliency and Redundancy Study costs = $50 million

 

Air quality alerts issued for region due to smokey skies from western wildfires

Garfield County Public Health has issued an air quality health advisories due to the smoke filtering into the region from wildfires burning across the western United States.

Fires in northern California, Oregon and other northwestern states are causing the air to be hazy with smoke settling across much of Colorado Friday and again Saturday. There are no new fires burning in Colorado or Utah, according to the multi-agency inciweb.nwcg.gov website.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued several smoke advisories around the state, including in Pitkin and Garfield counties. The advisories are in effect until 9 a.m. Sunday.

Garfield County Public Health reports real-time air quality readings at garfield-county.com/air-quality, including links links to the Colorado Smoke Outlook web page and other state and national resources.

The county also operates an extensive air monitoring network with two locations that collect data on particulate matter, a primary component of smoke.

“As of August 7, the sites in Battlement Mesa and Rifle are reading levels in the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ and high end of the ‘moderate’ category for particulate matter for the most recent 24-hour average time period,” according to a Saturday news release from county health officials.

The readings are based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) health advisory levels for criteria pollutants, which have set thresholds under the Clean Air Act.

“There are periods of time where PM 2.5 concentrations are reaching levels that are ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’ in Garfield County currently,” the release states. That means active children and adults, and people with lung disease such as asthma, should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors, according to the alert.

If visibility becomes less than 5 miles, such activity should be avoided, the release states.

Glenwood Canyon likely to remain closed for ‘weeks’ as I-70 assessed, repaired following numerous mudslides

Crews continued Monday to assess the damage to Interstate 70 in the Glenwood Canyon. The road will be closed for days if not weeks, the governor said Monday.
Courtesy CDOT

It could be awhile before traffic once again streams through Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70.

The stretch of highway could remain closed for weeks, as Colorado Department of Transportation crews work to clean up and assess the damage following several days of heavy rains and debris flows from the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.

“We’re looking at a few days to weeks, and more likely getting into the weeks category,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a Monday afternoon news conference in Golden along with CDOT and other state officials.

Having driven through the canyon “hundreds of times” over the years, he called the pictures and drone video footage he’s seen of the damage from several straight days of flash flooding “shocking.”

Polis had planned to join a fly-over of the canyon Monday morning, but said that was canceled due to weather concerns across the state.

The governor noted Glenwood Canyon normally sees about 2.4 inches of rain during the entire month of July. It’s seen 4 inches in five days to close out the month.

Another flash flood watch was issued for the area Monday afternoon by the National Weather Service.

The worst slide so far

While CDOT crews had been able to keep up with the frequent mud and debris flows onto I-70 going back to late June and reopened the highway within a day or less in most cases, the amount of debris and damage dealt to the highway infrastructure over multiple days since the canyon was closed the night of July 29 will take much more time to clean up and assess, Polis and CDOT officials said.

Nearly 30 vehicles and more than 100 people were stranded in the canyon at various points, some stuck in the piles of mud and debris, when the slides occurred after a flash flood warning had been lifted earlier that evening.

“We know this closure has had a big impact on Coloradans who use this corridor on a regular basis to travel the state,” Polis said. “We are doing everything in our power to reopen it as soon as possible.”

Polis said the state has declared a state of emergency and applied for federal disaster relief assistance.

“We are taking immediate action to rebuild the damaged sections as soon as possible, but we won’t be fully aware of the extent of the damage until the debris is cleared,” Polis said.

The Monday afternoon news conference was held live at the CDOT headquarters in Golden, and was also on Zoom and webcast via Facebook Live on the governor’s Facebook page.

CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew participated from Glenwood Springs, where she has been stationed to oversee the Glenwood Canyon response.

“It’s a very grave situation in Glenwood Canyon right now,” Lew said, describing extensive damage to the elevated westbound highway deck and barrier wall in several locations.

10s of millions in damage

Crews were able to clear a path for workers at the Hanging Lake Tunnel command center and the nearby Shoshone power facility, which will assist with critical operations, Lew said.

Elsewhere, multiple debris flows have clogged up the Colorado River, forcing it out of its channel and undercutting the highway structure beneath the eastbound lanes and the adjacent recreation path.

Lew displayed rock specimens from several layers deep within the geologically unique canyon that indicate the extent of the forces impacting the high canyon walls.

She said the primary focus for now is to remove the mud, rocks and trees that have piled up on the highway lanes, sometimes 10 feet or more deep, so that the damage can be assessed.

Lew hesitated to estimate how much the damage to the highway infrastructure will cost to fix, but said it’s already in the 10s of millions of dollars.

Stan Hilkey, executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said during the news conference that a dual concern is the impacts from the tons of debris pouring into the Colorado River.

“The debris in the river is diverting the river into areas where it previously didn’t flow, including up against the highway and causing more damage, or to the other side of the river where it could eventually impact the railway,” Hilkey said of the Union Pacific Railroad line that carries freight and passenger trains. The UP line has also been closed since the latest slides.

Once the interstate reopens, it is likely to be down to one lane in both directions, transportation officials said.

Northern route

In the meantime, motorists are advised to take the northern alternate route from I-70 westbound at Silverthorne via Colorado Highway 9 to U.S. 40 through Steamboat Springs and Craig, and Colorado 13 south to Rifle and back onto I-70, and vice versa for eastbound traffic.

Construction on U.S. Highway 50 between Montrose and Gunnison has also been temporarily halted, so that is now an alternate route to the south.

Local traffic and increased enforcement

Garfield County and Pitkin County local traffic is allowed to travel between Rifle and Glenwood and onto State Highway 82, but must exit at West Rifle and get back onto I-70 at the Main Rifle exit or points to the east.

“We are trying to limit any inconvenience for locals, but we also are trying to keep transient traffic off of I-70 and direct it onto the detour,” said John Lorme, CDOT director of operations and maintenance.

Through-traffic — motorists and commercial truckers without a local destination — is not allowed past Rifle on the west and Dotsero to the east.

Glenwood Springs tourism officials have been working with CDOT to better delineate highway closure maps that are available at cotrip.org to show that motorists, including visitors from points west or taking the detour from the east can get to Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley.

Colorado State Patrol Chief Matt Packard said during the Monday news conference that extra resources have been diverted to the northern detour route and other areas that are seeing more traffic as a result.

“We do have additional troopers on all of those routes, and will keep up on staffing those areas as CDOT continues to assess the situation in Glenwood Canyon,” Packard said. “We just ask that anybody on those routes please be patient and drive extra-safe.”

Rail impacts

Union Pacific Railroad tracks through Glenwood Canyon were also impacted by mud and debris flows, shutting down both freight and passenger service through the canyon since late Thursday.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Monday the California Zephyr line is temporarily suspended and is not running on an alternate route, as has been the case with past closures in Colorado.

“Sometimes we will re-route through Wyoming, but UP can’t support that at this time,” Magliari said.

UP spokeswoman Robynn Tysver said Monday that about 80% of the debris has been cleared from the tracks, and that they should be able to resume rail service through Glenwood Canyon by midweek.

“Crews continued to clear debris Monday caused by last week’s mudslide through Glenwood Canyon,” she said. “Barring any additional delays caused by severe weather or unforeseen events, Union Pacific estimates the track will reopen sometime this week, perhaps by Wednesday.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.