Some commuters report long delays in canyon

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
On the third night of the canyon re-opening via a pilot car operation, cars quickly began backing up past the No Name tunnel going into Glenwood Canyon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Some commuters were less fortunate than others when trying to get through Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70 on Monday.

Commuters headed both west and east experienced delays of anywhere from 50 and 80 minutes between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. Monday, the first day that the canyon was open with a pilot car guiding alternating traffic on one lane.

But other commuters reported waiting as long as six hours while headed west at night. Wendi Smith of Aspen said she was traveling westbound in a vehicle that latched onto the east of the queue at about 7 p.m. Traffic stopped dead in both lanes. They didn’t exit off the interstate at Glenwood Springs until 1 a.m. Tuesday, she said.

Smith said she was frustrated by the inability to determine why they weren’t moving. “I tried to call 911 to find out what was going on,” she said. She didn’t have cell coverage so she couldn’t find out.

Another reader who emailed The Aspen Times said it took 5.5 hours to get through the canyon going east to west starting at 7:30 p.m. Aspen Times columnist Glenn Beaton also reported it took him 5 hours to get through the canyon Monday night.

Traffic is reduced to one lane in a 6-mile stretch of the canyon that was damaged in a rockslide earlier this month. A pilot car guides traffic in one direction while vehicles are at a standstill in the other direction. Traffic is shut down from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to allow highway crews to remove rock, repair damage and perform rockfall mitigation.

“People need to realize we’re still in an emergency situation,” said Tracy Trulove, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

She said the pilot car is constantly in motion. No work stoppages are taken at night because it’s unsafe for workers. Trulove was unaware of delays of up to six hours Monday night, but acknowledged that volume was an issue. Motorists were staging as early as 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon to get through the canyon rather than taking the detour, which is reported to be four hours or more.

The transportation department planned to refine the staging process starting Tuesday to make it a bit more orderly. On the east side of the canyon, tractor-trailers will be staged at the commercial lot at Dotsero. Passenger vehicles will be turned around while the interstate is closed and directed back to the Gypsum exit at mile marker 140 and told to stage on the frontage road. Colorado State Patrol troopers will help with the staging procedure, Trulove said.

The system isn’t perfect, she said, but the transportation department will make adjustments to improve it. “We’re hoping it gets a little more ironed out (Tuesday),” she said.

There is no timeline for getting traffic flowing both directions, either on two lanes or four lanes. Alternating traffic with a pilot car will be in use for the foreseeable future. During that time, delays may vary. The transportation department is saying motorists will experience delays of at least one hour.