Travel

Latest Glenwood Canyon Closure a Troubling Sign of the Future

Lighting structures like this one help crews in Glenwood Canyon keep working when the sun starts to set.
Lighting structures like this one help crews in Glenwood Canyon keep working when the sun starts to set. Colorado Department of Transportation
On August 14, Governor Jared Polis celebrated the reopening of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon — a few hours earlier than initially predicted. But less than a week later, the major east-west route is closed again owing to a flash-flood warning.

A note at the top of cotrip.org, a website operated by the Colorado Department of Transportation that highlights road alerts and more, reads: "EXTENDED CLOSURE: I-70 Glenwood Canyon between Exit 116 (Glenwood Springs) and Exit 133 (Dotsero). Crews will keep the safety closure in place tonight (8/18) and reassess the weather forecast in the morning. This is an extended closure with no estimated time of reopening."

A CDOT release notes that department crews will keep a close eye on the area in and around the burn scar from last year's Grizzly Creek fire, "and will determine if it is safe to reopen when the warning is lifted. In the event that a new mudslide occurs or a significant amount of debris from the mudslide path blocks the interstate, the closure may be extended past the Flash Flood Warning being lifted." And indeed, an update at 9:47 a.m. on August 19 reveals that the department has kept the closure in place "due to an unusually high uncertainty with the forecast, including abrupt shifts this morning. The Flash Flood Watch in place now could turn into a Flash Flood Warning quickly."

This prospect was teased in CDOT's August 18 update about work in the canyon. The previous day had been a productive one, it reported, with crews hauling out thirty truckloads of debris from the north side of the interstate along westbound I-70 at Ty Gulch (milepost 129) using two excavators. Workers also "built in some stairsteps to slow the flow in the area." Meanwhile, other department personnel finished cleaning up the area between mileposts 119 and 121 along eastbound I-70, dispensing with sixty loads of rubble along the way.

On August 18, CDOT also sent an open letter to stakeholders and partners in communities near the canyon, updating them on Colorado's request for federal assistance to reopen all lanes of the interstate; when the highway reopened on August 14, sections were down to one lane in each direction. The main funding requests include these priorities:
Damage to the Colorado River: Areas of the Colorado River are covered by immense debris and material that have impacted the flow of the River. To that end, the Department of Public Safety, working together with the Department of Natural Resources, local river districts, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and others are assessing options for clearing debris and material in a manner that will restore river flow in a manner that protects the critical infrastructure in the canyon.

Damage on both sides of the river including the burn scar area above the roadway: Much of the burn scar is within the U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction on land far above I-70. The forest service is exploring all options, including areas that may require additional rockfall mitigation and support accelerate revegetation where possible.

Fixing the Hanging Lake Trail: Hanging Lake Trailhas incurred serious damage due to this event. We will ask the federal government to explore all options available to pay for this work to occur as expeditiously as possible.

Support to Individuals and Small Businesses: The Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is working with the U.S. Small Business Administration to implement the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program.

Regulatory flexibility: The Stafford Act Declaration can provide short term regulatory flexibility options that may be warranted with respect to supply chain issues.

Even once I-70 reopens through Glenwood Canyon, it is likely to close again for additional flash-flood warnings and other weather events. So travelers — especially truckers — had better get used to alternative routes.

Here are CDOT's recommendations about how to get around the current troubles: "Motorists are advised to seek the northern alternate route via Steamboat Springs that begins at Exit 87 (West Rifle). Visitors and local traffic traveling eastbound to Glenwood Springs and destinations in the Roaring Fork Valley can continue down US 6 and enter back on eastbound I-70 at Exit 90 (Main Rifle), Exit 97 (Silt) or Exit 105 (New Castle)."

Click to read the open letter to partners and stakeholders affected by the damage to Glenwood Canyon.

This post has been updated to include an update from 9:47 a.m. on August 19 about the closure of Glenwood Canyon being extended.
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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