Glenwood Canyon closure likely until Thursday afternoon

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

A massive rockslide that toppled onto Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon late Monday will result in a lengthy detour for anyone headed to or from the Denver area until at least Thursday afternoon.

That’s the earliest Colorado Department of Transportation officials expect to be able to open a single lane of alternating traffic led by a pilot car, CDOT spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said. And that depends on the success of rock scaling operations to make sure the canyon walls are stable, she said.

CDOT used a helicopter Tuesday to allow its geohazards team to view the damage from above, and engineers were inspecting the road for any structural damage.

“There is a lot of debris still up on the slope, which remains unstable,” Trulove said. “We had our geologists up there all day, and there’s just a lot of loose rock. The moisture we’ve had followed by the warm temperatures isn’t helping.”

In the meantime, motorists heading east toward Denver must endure a 146-mile detour via state Highway 13 at Rifle to U.S. 40 from Craig to Steamboat Springs and Highway 131 back to I-70 at Wolcott. Travelers headed to and from the southeastern part of the state are advised to take U.S. 50.

The second rock slide of the day Monday happened just after 9 p.m., about three-quarters of a mile west of the Hanging Lake Tunnels and 8 miles east of Glenwood Springs.

The slide involving more than a dozen car-sized boulders originated from high on the canyon wall was in the same location as a smaller one that closed I-70 in both directions for about two hours early Monday morning.

After the earlier incident, crews determined it was safe to reopen one lane in both directions around 5 a.m. while the rocks were being removed throughout the day.

During the second slide, two westbound semis and at least one car were passing by at the time, and one of the semis was severely damaged by the falling boulders. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Trulove said that at least a dozen boulders fell onto the westbound lanes, “the largest about the size of my Dodge Durango,” she said.

Several boulders also crashed onto the eastbound lanes, while others tumbled all the way across the Colorado River.

I-70 was fully closed a little after 10 p.m. Monday, stranding dozens of motorists who had to be turned around toward either Eagle or Glenwood Springs.

Among those coming through the canyon to Glenwood Springs was Ron Milhorn, news and sports director for KMTS radio, who was headed home with his family after seeing his newborn granddaughter in Denver.

Eventually able to turn around and find a safe spot to pull over, Milhorn said he walked up to take a look at the carnage and happened onto the truck driver who came away unscathed.

“The reporter in me said I had to go find the story when I stumbled onto the driver,” he said. “I asked if I could interview him. He was remarkably calm, cool and collected, and described seeing a car in front of him. He said it just vanished in the snow and debris.”

That interview was expected to air on KMTS this morning.

CDOT’s regional transit Bustang, which ordinarily runs from Glenwood to Denver and back each day, picked up only as far west as Vail on Tuesday morning. Eagle will be its westernmost point until I-70 is reopened, the bus service’s Twitter feed said Tuesday. The westbound return bus Monday evening stopped at Vail for the night and took the route through Meeker and Rifle to bring passengers back to Glenwood.

Glenwood resident Nick Isenberg was on the bus and said the 14 westbound passengers spent Monday night at the Vail Interfaith Chapel. Vail police made a grocery run to buy milk for a toddler who was among the passengers, Isenberg said, and CDOT provided riders with breakfast from McDonald’s.

damage uncertain

Trulove said it will take some time to determine the extent of the damage from the slide and the costs to repair it, but several weeks of construction should be anticipated.

“We haven’t been able to move some of the larger boulders yet to delineate that,” she said, adding the westbound lanes are more heavily damaged. “We know there are some holes in the deck, and our engineers are out here taking a look at that.”

Once the single lane is opened, a pilot car could be in place for several days while the initial repairs and additional rock stabilization are completed, she said.

“As repairs progress, CDOT will move to open one lane in each direction,” according to a CDOT statement issued late Tuesday afternoon. “It could be several weeks before damage to the roadway walls and roadway are repaired and the interstate is fully open to regular traffic operations.”

Rockfall contractors are already lined up to continue the rock scaling work, and as a safety precaution a rockfall mitigation fence will be erected on the westbound lanes.

The 12-mile stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon, in particular the section just west of the Hanging Lake Tunnels, has had numerous major rock slides that have resulted in highway closures over the years.

In February 1995, three people were killed when a large rock tumbled onto the roadway, crushing their vehicle. Current Aspen City Councilman Art Daily was the lone survivor in that rockfall; his wife and two sons were killed. I-70 through the canyon was closed on Thanksgiving Day in 2004 for more than a day during the height of holiday traffic. The canyon was closed for more than three days in 2010 after another large slide.

travel, delivery impacts

Every time the highway through the canyon closes it also forces delivery trucks — from grocery stores and major retail chains and even The Aspen Times’ and Glenwood Springs Post Independent’s newspaper delivery trucks — to take the long detour. The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent are part of Colorado Mountain News Media, which has its printing plant in Gypsum.

The Napa Auto Parts store in Glenwood Springs was able to get its regular stock shipment in late Monday night, but was told to expect delays until the interstate reopens, sales clerk Sara Bak said.

“When we order out of Salt Lake City, they still have to go through the Denver (distribution center) and then over here,” Bak explained.

The interstate closure did not have an immediate impact on the Grand Avenue bridge construction in Glenwood, project spokesman Tom Newland said.

“They’re cranking away with the work down on Seventh Street,” Newland said Tuesday morning. “It’s not really impacting us at all, expect for maybe a little less traffic, which is good.”


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