Boebert, state officials get peek at Glenwood Canyon damage following governor’s visit

CDOT crews continue working at the Blue Gulch drainage near MM 123.5 in Glenwood Canyon on Wednesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The Western Slope’s lone representative in Congress, Lauren Boebert, was joined by local and state elected officials on a coattail tour of the mud-slide damage in Glenwood Canyon following Gov. Jared Polis’s Wednesday visit and announcement that Interstate 70 is on track for a partial reopening Saturday.

Also part of the tour were Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, Colorado State Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.

Joining the delegation were Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shoshana Lew, CDOT Regional Commissioner Cathy Hall and a number of CDOT and U.S. Forest Service officials.

CDOT officials said in a Thursday update that crews are on schedule to open one lane in each direction by sometime Saturday.

“The National Weather Service is currently calling for possible precipitation on Friday, so the reopening timeline could be impacted,” CDOT said in the release.

Boebert offered her thanks to the crews that have been working nearly nonstop for the past 14 days to clear the debris, assess the damage and make the initial repairs to get I-70 reopened.

“I am grateful to all the contractors and CDOT employees who are working around the clock to reopen this critical artery for Western Colorado and the West,” Boebert said in a statement issued through her press office after the tour.

“Having an opportunity to see this catastrophic disaster firsthand has reinforced the severity of this event and the need for long-term resiliency,” Boebert said.

Boebert reiterated her support as part of the bipartisan and bicameral Colorado congressional delegation for federal emergency assistance to pay for the highway repairs and long-term mitigation and resiliency efforts.

In addition to the $116 million request through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program, the congresswoman is also prepared to support a request for Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) funds, Boebert’s communications director, Ben Stout, said Thursday.

“At this point, CDOT crews still need to get through all the mud and debris to see the extent of the road destruction in the canyon,” Stout said. “We need a dollar amount before we can request those funds.”

Stout applauded news that crews are on track to have the cleanup and repairs to a point where I-70 can be open at least one lane in each direction through Glenwood Canyon by Saturday afternoon.

“Getting one lane open on Saturday is a good start, but it can’t be fixed and reopened fully soon enough,” he said.

It’s now the longest extended closure of the interstate through Glenwood Canyon since the I-70 project was completed in 1993, surpassing the 13-day closure during the initial days of the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire that burned more than 32,000 acres in and above the canyon.

The interstate was closed the night of July 29 due to major mud and debris flows triggered by torrential rains over the burn scar that covered all four lanes of the interstate in areas.

More than 100 travelers were trapped on the highway or holed up in the Hanging Lake Tunnels and at Bair Ranch overnight until they could be rescued.

Additional rains throughout the following weekend brought even more mud and debris from the unstable canyon slopes down onto the highway, as well as the Union Pacific Railroad, the recreational path and the Colorado River. The railroad has since reopened to freight and Amtrak passenger service.

Jankovsky said after getting a look at the aftermath in the canyon on Wednesday that he’s skeptical about a Saturday reopening, especially if the area receives additional rain.

“I’m afraid the governor’s announcement that it will be open by Saturday is a little premature,” Jankovsky said. “That puts a lot of pressure on CDOT to get to that point … maybe the first of the week.”

Jankovsky called the slide that took place in Blue Gulch at mile point 123.5 in the canyon that ripped through the westbound barrier wall and put a 15-foot hole in the eastbound roadway a “colossal” event.

“I can see why they’re calling that a 500-year event,” he said. “It took a swath out of that mountainside, top to bottom of the canyon.

“It gives you a good idea how the canyon was created when you look at that.”

On Wednesday, CDOT crews completed work to place 156 “super sacks” (large, 1.5-ton sand bags) with a crane at the base of Blue Gulch to act as rockfall protection once the highway reopens.

CDOT said in its Thursday update that all the necessary traffic control barriers have been delivered, and paving operations in the damaged eastbound lanes is to begin on Friday.

Once I-70 is reopened through the canyon the plan is for eastbound at mile point 123.5 to be one lane in each direction for about a three-quarter-mile stretch.

The Grizzly Creek, Hanging Lake and Bair Ranch rest areas are to remain closed, and the Hanging Lake Trail will also remain closed until the U.S. Forest Service is able to clear any debris that came down on the trail, CDOT said.

The No Name and Shoshone rest areas are slated to reopen when I-70 opens.