Glenwood Canyon assessment sets course for limited I-70 reopening after debris removal, basic repairs

Colorado’s Congressional delegation and Gov. Jared Polis received word Tuesday that $11.6 million in initial emergency assistance funds have been released by the Federal Highway Administration to expedite repairs to Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon. The amount represents 10% of the total $116 million that was formally requested Monday.

An ongoing assessment of the damage to Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon is laying the path for what needs to be accomplished before the roadway can be reopened.

According to a Tuesday update from the Colorado Department of Transportation, engineering teams were able to conduct in-depth assessments of roadway damage at mile point 123.5 (Blue Gulch) after substantial progress was made over the weekend and Monday to remove material from the late July mud and debris slides.

“Overall, CDOT believes that the roadway infrastructure can accommodate reopening westbound I-70 to one lane after additional slide material is removed and temporary barriers, rockfall protection and other roadway safety devices are installed to safely temporarily reopen westbound with lane restrictions,” according to the safety closure update. “This confirmation will help expedite the temporary westbound I-70 reopening timeline.”

Engineering teams also were able to verify that the eastbound roadway infrastructure can accommodate reopening to one lane, “after approximately 100 feet of roadway embankment and temporary asphalt pavement is reconstructed, along with the necessary roadway safety devices,” CDOT states.

Crews are conducting additional inspections Tuesday at Blue Gulch to determine how soon that can happen.

I-70 through Glenwood Canyon remains closed indefinitely in both directions after major mud and debris flows from the Grizzly Creek burn scar impacted the highway in several locations the nights of July 29 and 31.

CDOT also is coordinating with Xcel Energy about repairs to its electric power infrastructure that was impacted, including a high voltage line that provides service to CDOT’s Hanging Lake Tunnels and other major Xcel facilities within Glenwood Canyon.

“CDOT was able to re-establish power to the Hanging Lake Tunnels via a redundant feed from Holy Cross Energy,” CDOT states in the Tuesday release.

On Monday, CDOT crews removed 195 loads (more than 2,500 tons) of slide material, including mud, rocks and trees and hauled it to dump sites on either end of Glenwood Canyon, and to another dump site along Colorado Highway 82 near Aspen Glen.

Of that total, 120 loads of debris came from the east end of the canyon between the Hanging Lake Tunnel and Bair Ranch, and 75 loads came from the Blue Gulch area between Grizzly Creek and Hanging Lake.

CDOT crews work to fill “super sacks” — essentially large sand bags — to place along sections of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon to protect against future debris flows once the highway reopens.
CDOT courtesy photo

Crews also cleaned for the second time an 8-by-12 foot box culvert at Ty Gulch (MP 129.8).

Crews working the west side of the canyon are also working to expose a buried box culvert and on Wednesday expect to place 60 “super sacks” — bags of bedding sand — on the north side of the roadway to help protect against future debris flows in that area.

Gov. Polis issued a statement Tuesday after receiving word of the initial federal assistance funds.

“We are thrilled to have such close coordination with our federal partners to ensure federal resources are quickly on their way to Colorado,” Polis said. “Crews and staff across state government are working in all-hands-on-deck mode to deal with the devastating damage to Glenwood Canyon and I-70, and having the same level of support from federal partners at the Federal Highway Administration ensures we can keep working at a rapid pace to restore this economic and recreation highway.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or