Travel

Glenwood Canyon Closure Causes Chaos on Banned Route

A screen capture from Colorado Department of Transportation drone footage of mudslide damage in Glenwood Canyon.
A screen capture from Colorado Department of Transportation drone footage of mudslide damage in Glenwood Canyon. Colorado Department of Transportation
The indefinite closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon because of damage caused by mudslides continues to create chaos for travelers desperately searching for options to alternative routes now clogged with higher-than-usual traffic volume.

The Colorado Department of Transportation briefly shut off all access to one such choice, Highway 82 over Independence Pass, and early reports implied that a mudslide had struck there, too. But CDOT later confirmed that the shutdown was actually designed to prevent people from using a roadway unsuited to so many vehicles, including giant semi-trucks. And early today, August 6, CDOT updated a safety alert ordering big-rig drivers to avoid this stretch amid reports that staffers are actually on site to prevent truckers from ignoring this warning.

Motorists accustomed to using I-70 to get from Denver to Grand Junction are finding that the canyon closure can double commute time, and according to Rick Enstrom, namesake of Grand Junction's Enstrom's Candies, the result portends dire economic consequences. "When you've got to make a seven-hour drive instead of a three-and-a-half-hour drive, it's murder," he said.

"You've basically got two other routes in and out of Grand Junction that cannot support that amount of traffic," he continued. "You've got to go through Cheyenne to the north, or you've got to go to CaƱon City and Gunnison, and neither of them are great options. There's also Cottonwood Pass, but that's a country road; some of it is unpaved. And Independence Pass doesn't really work, either. That's single-lane road in some places, and you can't put any truck traffic on it."

That last fact didn't stop some truckers from trying, resulting in this Pitkin County Sheriff's Office tweet on the afternoon of August 4: "Independence Pass Closed both directions between MM47-72 due to mudslides." But a follow-up tweet offered a different explanation: "Per CDOT, CO 82 Independence Pass is shown as closed on cotrip.org, Google Maps and Apple Maps to prevent I-70 detour traffic from being routed onto that rural, challenging mountain highway with limited cell service."

Also responding to the situation was the Colorado State Patrol, which tweeted the following:
Highway 82 was subsequently reopened to private travel, but not to truckers, as confirmed by CDL Life, a news site for the trucking industry. "In order to enforce CMV [commercial motor vehicle] restrictions on Independence Pass, CDOT has stationed personnel at both ends to try to turn around any truck drivers who might attempt the route," the site noted. "The fine for trucks caught on Independence Pass is $1,000 plus the tow fees, according to the Colorado State Patrol."

The cotrip update about the route, shared at 12:55 a.m. today, reads, "SAFETY ISSUE: CO 82 Independence Pass should not be considered an alternate route, NO CMV or Vehicles over 35' allowed. Delivery vehicles, RVs and trailers should not use use Independence Pass to bypass the Interstate closure. Route is a narrow, high mountain roadway with tight switchbacks and heavy tourist traffic."

The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends 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. But those who take this advice should expect plenty of company.
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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