Glenwood Canyon closure has truckers trying Independence Pass, which is not allowed for semis | AspenTimes.com
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Glenwood Canyon closure has truckers trying Independence Pass, which is not allowed for semis

Pitkin County official: This would definitely be a day not to go up Indy Pass

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies stopped approximately 25 semi trucks Tuesday from driving over Independence Pass after a wildfire closed Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, a law enforcement official said.

That’s in addition to another at least six semis stopped and cited the day before, including one truck that rear-ended a slow-moving passenger vehicle at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday on its way back down the Pass, said Alex Burchetta, director of operation for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

While there are numerous signs from I-70 at Glenwood Springs and all along Highway 82 into Aspen and beyond, truckers are not paying attention to them or intentionally defying them, said Sgt. Jesse Steindler of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The measures even include a magnetic strip in the road at Difficult Campground that triggers warning lights on a sign ahead when it detects vehicles longer than 35-feet, which are prohibited on the narrow road.

“Either they’re illiterate or they just don’t care,” Steindler said. “Certainly they are ignorant about what’s waiting for them when they get up on that Pass. It’s completely irresponsible.”

Trucks can turn around at the winter closure gate just above Difficult, where yet another warning sign is posted.

Despite those warnings, however, truckers continue to attempt the road, which narrows to one lane in two spots on the Aspen side of the Pass and features numerous narrow sections and hairpin turns not navigable by semi-trucks and other large vehicles or vehicles pulling trailers.

To try to head off trucks getting stuck on the Pass, the Sheriff’s Office posted a deputy Tuesday near Difficult Campground to pull over trucks and force them to turn around and head downvalley back to a long detour around the closure, said Steindler and Burchetta.

CANYON DETOUR

Drivers should anticipate additional traffic on these routes. CDOT has paused some construction projects in order to accommodate detour traffic. However, travelers should be aware of possible construction impacts on US and state highways. CDOT recommends that through traffic on I-70 use a southern detour route, due to construction on commonly used northern alternate routes.

WESTBOUND: Denver metro area motorists can travel on US 285 to US 50, and continue west to Grand Junction. Travelers on I-70 can use CO 9 to US 285 south to US 50, or use CO 91 southwest to US 24 to US 50.

EASTBOUND: Motorists traveling from Grand Junction can use US 50 east to US 285 and continue to Denver. Motorists headed to areas west of Denver can also use the westbound detour in reverse.

For residents and businesses north of I-70, the following alternate routes are best:

WESTBOUND: Motorists can connect to US 40 via CO 9 or CO 131. To continue to Grand Junction, take CO 139 south to I-70. CDOT advises commercial traffic to use CO 9 instead of CO 131, for safety purposes. Please note that while CO 13 is open at this time, it is not a recommended detour due to construction. Oversize commercial vehicles are not allowed on CO 13 due to construction.

EASTBOUND: Near Fruita, motorists can travel north on CO 139 to US 40, then south on CO 131 or CO 9, returning to I-70. As stated above, CO 13 is not recommended due to construction.

With Glenwood Canyon unlikely to open Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office was trying to coordinate with the Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Department of Transportation to continue posting authorities east of Aspen and head off semi-truck traffic on the Pass, Burchetta said. Posting a deputy on the road leaves the Sheriff’s Office with few resources to respond to other emergency calls within Pitkin County, he said.

However, the Glenwood wildfire was stretching the other agencies thin as well, Burchetta said. Personnel from Pitkin County’s Road Bridge Department were helping turn around trucks Tuesday and likely will continue to do so Wednesday, Burchetta said.

Most of the trucker traffic is coming from the Aspen side of the Pass, Steindler said. Interstate 70 is closed at the Highway 82 exit, making the Independence Pass route seem like the best option for truckers who don’t know the area and follow GPS coordinates or Google maps.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies wrote six $1,100-plus tickets Monday and two more early Tuesday to truckers who defied the warnings, Burchetta said. Those trucks drove past the winter closure gate into the restricted area.

“You would think they would be aware of where they can and cannot go,” Steindler said.

After the early-morning stops, deputies began halting trucks before the restricted area after it became clear Tuesday morning that the trend would continue, Burchetta said. They also placed two more variable message board signs nearer Independence Pass — one at Owl Creek Road near the airport and another at Difficult— in an effort to try to get truckers’ attention, he said.

And it wasn’t just semis heading through Aspen to avoid the interstate closure.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing a significant increase in traffic over Independence Pass,” Burchetta said. “We’re seeing both passenger car traffic and oversized vehicles.”

He also advised road bicyclists to stay off the Pass road while Glenwood Canyon remains closed because of the traffic increase.

The accident involving the semi-truck occurred just east of the North Star Nature Preserve about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday and involved a truck that had been cited for driving on the Pass and was being escorted back down, Burchetta said. The truck rear-ended a car that was either stopped or moving slowly and caused a significant amount of damage to both vehicles, he said.

The semi was immobilized and had to be towed, which didn’t happen until about 3 a.m. The passenger car drove off for unknown reasons, Burchetta said. No one was injured.

I-70 continues to be closed Tuesday between mile point 116 (Glenwood Springs) and 140 (Gypsum) due to the Grizzly Creek Fire. As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no estimated time for the interstate to reopen.

CDOT was assessing the safety of two bridges near the spot where the fire started, as well as looking at rockfall because vegetation holding the rock in place burned.

CDOT recommended the US 50 route, which connects in southern Colorado via US 285 and US 24.

Other motorists and truckers were trying to use Cottonwood Pass, which runs from Gypsum and meets up with Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs at Cattle Creek Road.

However, Cottonwood Pass will remain closed until at least Wednesday morning after a semi overturned around 3 a.m. Tuesday when the driver attempted to navigate the steep, narrow, dirt road. Birch Barron, emergency management director for Eagle County, told the Vail Daily that when Cottonwood Pass reopens only smaller vehicles capable of maneuvering the tight roadway should attempt the route. “And you can expect some serious traffic,” he said.

Truck traffic coming from the Lake County side of Independence Pass, however, is not stopped, Steindler said. Lake County sheriff’s deputies are not keeping watch and CSP and Colorado Department of Transportation personnel are stretched thin and cannot help on that side, he said.

“This would definitely be a day not to go up the Pass,” Steindler said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com


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