Boaters may get smooth ride on I-70

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS The Colorado Department of Transportation is considering an idea aimed at reducing problems for rafting companies during a construction project in Glenwood Canyon starting in May.The question is whether it would create backups on Interstate 70 in the process.Companies have proposed a way to keep rafting vehicles from having to detour to Hanging Lake and back to reach the Shoshone exit boat launch during the two-month project.Contractors are scheduled to begin work May 7 on a major resurfacing of eastbound I-70 from No Name to Grizzly Creek. The work will require shutting down eastbound lanes and running two-way traffic on normally westbound I-70 all the way from the No Name to Hanging Lake tunnels. Because of differences in grade between eastbound and westbound lanes, the closest feasible places to divert traffic is at the tunnels.The work also is forcing the closure of some exit and entrance ramps, resulting in some detours involving the No Name, Grizzly Creek and Shoshone interchanges. Among those detours, getting to Shoshone will require continuing east to Hanging Lake, coming back to Grizzly Creek and then getting on the eastbound I-70 lanes, which will be open between Grizzly and Shoshone only for access to Shoshone.Rafting companies operate on a strict put-in schedule at Shoshone and are worried about the extra driving time that detour would require. They are proposing being allowed to avoid the Hanging Lake loop by getting off at the westbound on-ramp at Grizzly Creek. That would require flaggers at both ends of the on-ramp, which will remain open to westbound traffic. It also would require stopping I-70 traffic as needed to let the rafting vehicles exit.Pete Mertes, resident engineer for CDOT in Glenwood Springs, said he understands the companies’ concerns about the detours and they are making a fair request. He said CDOT will need to consider how many vehicles per day might be trying to exit at Grizzly and how much it might slow down I-70 traffic.Early indications are that as many as 15 or 20 vehicles an hour might be involved, he said. He’s concerned that if I-70 traffic is brought to a stop, it sometimes could create backups that would be hard to clear out again.”We struggled with that some in South Canyon last year,” he said.During a repaving project there, CDOT sometimes saw traffic back up for miles once it was stopped.However, Mertes noted that the rafting companies’ busy season doesn’t begin until Memorial Day, when a fair amount of the construction already should be done. It’s also possible that their busiest times of day will be between the morning and evening commutes.CDOT may just try the companies’ suggestion and see what happens.”If it becomes a big problem and it’s not going to work we can always abandon it,” Mertes said.Susi Larson, a partner in Whitewater Rafting, LLC, in Glenwood Springs, said she appreciates the efforts of CDOT officials to try to accommodate the industry.”I’m sure they’re going to work it out. They’ve been really accepting of ideas and … they’re going to make it so it works for everyone,” she said.If the Hanging Lake detour must remain, she said, “it would be inconvenient but it wouldn’t stop rafters.” She said it’s possible her company would need to use more vehicles to stick to its launch time schedule.CDOT held an open house on the canyon project Wednesday and some No Name residents showed up to learn more about how it would affect them.”It’s an impact but it’s not going to be a big one,” said No Name resident Bryan Brubaker.He’ll have to travel west to Glenwood to be able to get on the eastbound on-ramp there and head to his work in Avon. CDOT officials have heard a little concern from No Name residents that it may be hard to get off and back on I-70 at the main Glenwood interchange during morning rush hour, when so many eastbound motorists are exiting in Glenwood.”If it becomes a big problem, we’ll address it,” Mertes said.Brubaker is more worried about what may happen during the evening rush hour to westbound traffic at Hanging Lake, where motorists will have to merge into one lane to make room for eastbound traffic.”I can see that going slow, going from two lanes to one,” he said.