Travel

Lauren Boebert Admits Full Glenwood Canyon Fix Will Take Months

U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert, right, with a work crew in Glenwood Canyon on August 11.
U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert, right, with a work crew in Glenwood Canyon on August 11. boebert.house.gov
On August 11, Governor Jared Polis announced with great fanfare that Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon would reopen by the afternoon of Saturday, August 14, following a two-weeks-plus closure — and he's not the only politician taking credit in advance for this accomplishment. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who represents the Western Slope, issued a press release featuring photos like the one above, as well as the claim that she's been "leading the charge to get I-70 fully reopened."

But buried under other examples of personal back-patting in Boebert's PR blast is this admission: "The Colorado Department of Transportation is confident that, with the support of federal resources, it will be able to have at least one lane of traffic going in each direction clear by this Saturday. However, it is likely to be several months before I-70 is fully repaired."

Indeed, there's no firm date for when all four lanes of I-70 through the twelve-mile stretch of the canyon will be open again. And even getting half of them cleared by Polis's pledge date is no slam dunk, as CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher acknowledges.

"CDOT crews and agency partners are focused on trying to open one lane in each direction by sometime Saturday," she notes. "There are several steps required before that can take place on Saturday, so CDOT will continue to update the traveling public as we work towards this goal. Weather will also play a vital role in what a reopening will look like."

This last point is important. A 15 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms is in the forecast for Glenwood Springs today and tomorrow, and if they materialize and are more severe than anticipated, the precipitation could potentially trigger more mudslides in the Grizzly Creek burn scar zone that would put the August 14 reopening in doubt.

In the meantime, CDOT maintenance crews continue to remove truckloads of debris from the canyon, with many of their efforts concentrated in the area between Hanging Lake Tunnel and Bair Ranch. Crews east of the tunnel are gathering an estimated sixty loads per day, while those to the west are transporting approximately 45; each load weighs about thirteen tons, according to Thatcher. On August 11, a crane also began moving 300 "super sacks" — bags of bedding sand — into locations where they can mitigate against future debris flows.

In a best-case scenario, CDOT's engineers believe department teams will be able to open one lane of westbound I-70 after getting rid of additional slide material and building temporary barriers, rockfall protections and other roadway safety devices. But the fix is characterized as temporary and will require lane restrictions — and the same is true for the eastbound section of the roadway, which will need 100 feet of embankment reconstruction and new asphalt pavement that's essentially a short-term solution.

Even if all of this happens by the hoped-for dates, traffic through Glenwood Canyon will be plagued by delays for the foreseeable future, and may prompt drivers to keep seeking out alternate routes such as Independence Pass and Cottonwood Pass, both of which CDOT considers to be highly problematic.

For now, the department continues to recommend that westbound motorists from metro Denver exit I-70 at exit 205 (Silverthorne) and travel north on Colorado Highway 9 toward Kremmling, at which point they'll head west on U.S. Highway 40 and then south on Colorado 13 before returning to westbound I-70 at exit 90 in Rifle. Eastbound travelers are advised to take the same route in reverse.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts