Saturday now eyed for I-70 to reopen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Wet weather and high winds Thursday delayed efforts to clear rocks and make initial repairs on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, meaning it will likely be Saturday before the 12-mile stretch of highway can be even partially reopened, state transportation officials said.
The situation will be reassessed today, and there’s an outside chance that schedule could be moved up, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.
“Sadly, one word: weather,” Ford said, explaining that the initial plan to reopen at least one of the eastbound lanes Thursday afternoon using pilot cars would have to wait until the weekend.
I-70 through the canyon has been closed since late Monday when a massive rockslide came crashing down onto the roadway, severely damaging the road surface as well as one semitractor-trailer that was passing through at the time. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
“We have to ensure as best we can the safety of the traveling public,” Ford said of ongoing efforts to remove any remaining loose rocks that are still on the canyon cliffs before traffic can be allowed to flow again.
In the meantime, motorists are being diverted from I-70 north to a detour following U.S. 40 and state Highways 13 and 131, and south via U.S. Routes 50, 24 and 285.
I-70 between Wolcott and Rifle remains open to local traffic with the exception of the Grizzly, Shoshone and Hanging Lake rest areas. The Bair Ranch and No Name rest areas remain open, Ford said.
Once the pilot-car operation is in place, leading east and westbound traffic in alternating fashion for about 6 miles through the damaged area, motorists should still expect hourlong delays getting through Glenwood Canyon, she said.
“This setup could last for several days as we continue repairs on the other lanes,” Ford said.
After that, there could be at least another month of work to repair the cantilevered westbound lanes, retaining walls and road surface, resulting in continued traffic impacts.
CDOT is estimating between $2 million and $5 million in damage was done when some 30 cubic yards of rocks and debris fell onto the highway. Ford said the state will likely ask for federal disaster relief funds to help pay for the repair work.
Fog and rain, accompanied by high winds Thursday prevented CDOT crews from using a helicopter to haul tools and equipment up the canyon wall to workers.
“Crews had to haul everything up by hand, and that set us back several hours,” CDOT Deputy Maintenance Superintendent T.J. Blake said.
CDOT expects to complete the installation of 160 linear feet of new rockfall fencing on top of the highway barrier by today, which will help contain smaller rocks that may continue to fall, he said.
“The roadway has been patched on the eastbound side where we plan to run the pilot-car operations,” Blake said.
Meanwhile, crews continue working some 1,200 feet above the interstate to bring down both large and small rocks. Blake said that’s being done using pry bars and airbags that are placed behind loose rocks to tip them over the edge. Some explosives also are being used, he said.
Another 10 to 15 cubic yards of rocks and debris is being removed from the rockfall area, Blake said.
Meanwhile, another rockfall at the west end of the canyon near Glenwood Springs early Thursday morning that knocked out power to the No Name area has CDOT on guard for possible other trouble spots.
“Using that as an example, I have to stress that we are in an extreme situation, and we are very actively monitoring all of this area for additional rockfall danger,” Ford said.
The section west of the Hanging Lake Tunnels where the Monday slide occurred as well as west of the No Name Tunnels where the Thursday incident happened are historically the two most active locations for rockfall activity in the canyon, she said.
Through the entire canyon, though, “you have miles of sheer canyon walls, and with the freeze-thaw cycle we’re seeing now, rocks could come down anywhere,” she said.
No damage was reported to the interstate as a result of the Thursday slide.
Ford again emphasized that several local mountain passes are closed for the winter and are not to be considered as alternate routes around the I-70 closure. Those include Highway 82 over Independence Pass as well as county and forest roads over Cottonwood and Crooked Creek passes.
“Just because a road shows up on a map doesn’t mean it’s open,” she said.
CDOT’s Bustang bus service to and from Denver continues to terminate at Eagle during the I-70 closure. Once the pilot cars are running, Bustang service to Glenwood Springs likely will be restored, though departure and arrival times will likely be adjusted to account for the canyon delays, Ford said.
Another option for anyone trying to get from Glenwood Springs to Denver is Amtrak.
The Union Pacific Railroad tracks through Glenwood Canyon, which carries Amtrak’s California Zephyr passenger line, was not impacted by the rockfall and remains open. The roughly 61/2 hour train trip between Glenwood and Denver is about the same as it takes to drive the northern detour route.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said he hadn’t heard reports of an uptick in passengers during the I-70 closure, but that may change.
“This is an off season for us, so if people are looking to use us as an alternative, we’d certainly welcome them,” Magliari said.
Amtrak is scheduled to depart Glenwood Springs for Denver daily at 12:10 p.m. As of Thursday, a one-way ticket to Denver from Glenwood was $84.
Updates regarding the status of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon will be posted on CDOT’s traveler information site at http://www.cotrip.org and recorded on the 511 phone line.
Post Independent reporter Will Grandbois contributed to this report.