I-70 in Glenwood Canyon on track to reopen one lane both ways Saturday
Full mitigation, construction efforts slated for Thanksgiving, however
If Interstate 70 reopens through Glenwood Canyon as expected Saturday, motorists should plan for traffic delays until full repairs can be completed later this year.
CDOT officials did not say Friday afternoon during a media briefing when exactly the road will reopen Saturday.
The anticipated one-lane configuration, however, will only encompass the stretch of Interstate 70 most affected by the debris flows that damaged eastbound and westbound lanes in July. The debris flows were a product of heavy rains activating the Grizzly Creek burn scar.
“There’s going to be reduced speeds, and a need for people to drive with extra care on the roadway,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said during a Friday afternoon media briefing. “That will mean keeping your eyes focused moving forward, and there’s a lot to see on the sides.
But we’re going to need drivers to be attuned to driving safely and in an interactive manner, keeping flow sticking to the speed limit, which is going to be slower than usual.”
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The most significant damage to Interstate 70 occurred at milepost 123.5 — otherwise known as “Blue Gulch.”
It’s likely the speed limit of this section of roadway will be reduced to 35 mph, Lew said. The one-lane configuration should last until Thanksgiving, when work crews are expected to fully complete mitigation and reconstruction efforts.
CDOT Deputy Incident Commander Keith Stefanik said crews have so far placed 150 3,000-pound sacks on the north side of Interstate 70 expected to provide temporary rockfall protection in that area.
“So, that was a great accomplishment, and that’ll provide a layer of protection for the traveling public, for any small to medium rocks that come down through that Blue Gulch area,” he said.
Meanwhile, Stefanik said crews were able to get the eastbound lane up to grade.
“But we’re not out of the clear — we have to get very good cooperation from Mother Nature and make sure she is not establishing more events that place material down on the viaduct,” he said. “We also need to make sure that we can get an emergency contractor in here to do the repairs necessary to get two lanes open in each direction.”
CDOT officials are expecting to award a bid to an emergency contractor by Aug. 20.
“We just had a job showing today with approximately a little over 10 contractors,” Stefanik said.
Work throughout the next three months is going to be “very extensive,” Stefanik said.
“Basically, we need to reconstruct portions of the westbound deck,” he said. “ We lost the inside barrier, we lost the structural strands that go across the Interstate.”
He added, “All of that section of westbound I-70 needs to be partially reconstructed or fully reconstructed in that area.”
One major consideration for motorists to keep in mind is that ever since the closure of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon began, alternate routes have been inundated with motorists trying to circumvent the closure. Both Cottonwood and Independence passes are frequently seeing more stop-and-go traffic.
Meanwhile, some motorists who use GPS systems to navigate around Glenwood Canyon have been directed through roads unintended for regular traffic use. Lew said it’s best for motorists to check COTrip.org to avoid such situations.
“GPS is an incredible tool that is invaluable for drivers, particularly when you don’t know the area. But it doesn’t replace common sense in terms of picking a route, particularly when driving through the mountains,” Lew said. “I would say that drivers should be very careful about any route that doesn’t sort of look like a major highway that runs you over mountain passes.”
Motorists are encouraged to plan their travel ahead of time and to keep their eyes on the roadway while driving past the mudslide area, a Friday CDOT update states. CDOT crews will continue to monitor for inclement weather and may close the highway again if conditions are deemed unsafe.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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