Heavy traffic expected in Glenwood Canyon this holiday weekend, CDOT warns

Staff reports
Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.
John LaConte |

Be prepared for heavy holiday traffic in Glenwood Canyon this weekend.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has issued a travel advisory through Monday.

“We noticed we had very heavy traffic last weekend, which was the first weekend since it had reopened,” Elise Thatcher, CDOT’s northwest Colorado’s communications manager said Friday. “So, it’s not back to business as usual through the canyon in terms of zipping back and forth. It’s definitely going to be heavy traffic, and we still have the head-to-head detour, so plan on additional travel time.”

The advisory says to expect longer travel times not only due to heavy traffic but also to lower speed limits caused by the head-to-head traffic detour in place for the Interstate 70 paving project.

Travelers are urged to pay close attention to weather forecasts as even minimal amounts of rain could trigger mudslides, debris flows or rock slides in the burn area, according to the advisory. As of midday Friday Thatcher said that the next rainfall is not expected to come until Monday night, but that can always change.

The advisory says that if there is a flash flood warning (not a flash flood watch, which is less serious), CDOT will immediately enact a closure from Glenwood Springs (Mile Point 116) to Dotsero (MP 133) and clear the canyon of traffic.

In case of closures due to debris flows or even the risk of a debris flow, travelers should have a backup route identified. Both Independence Pass and Cottonwood Pass were closed for some period during the Grizzly Creek Fire, but both are currently open to normal use.

“Independence Pass continues to be open to passenger vehicles only,” Thatcher said.

No vehicles over 35 feet in length may use the pass at any time, according the CDOT website.

It is possible that Independence Pass could be closed if the canyon closes, but it would depend on circumstances.

“Every closure has a variety of factors involved. We understand the impact that closing Independence Pass has on communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s not a given that we’re going to close right away,” Thatcher said.

Semis and other oversized vehicles are barred from traveling over roads that lead to Cottonwood Pass, according to the Garfield County website.

One source of delays is no longer a concern. Xcel Energy has completed helicopter operations in Glenwood Canyon to repair fire damaged structures. There are no further intermittent traffic holds planned at this time, according to the advisory.

Rest areas, bike path, river put-ins closed

Even while I-70 is open, travelers will not be able to stop in Glenwood Canyon. This is to protect travelers from debris flows, mudslides or rockfall, which are more likely to occur in Glenwood Canyon near rest areas, according to the advisory.

The Glenwood Canyon Bike Path remains closed between approximately the No Name Tunnels (MP 117.6) and Dotsero (MP 133). All rest areas and river put-ins in Glenwood Canyon also remain closed due to the risk of mudslides, debris flow, rockfall and other hazards. There is no estimated time of reopening, according to the advisory.

All river recreation activities on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon have been suspended to support ongoing firefighting activities.

The head-to-head detour in the canyon may be maintained for safety even after the paving project is completed in October as scheduled, Thatcher said.

“The eastbound deck is more protected from debris flows than the westbound deck,” she said.