Glenwood Canyon closure has truckers trying Independence Pass, which is not allowed for semis | SummitDaily.com
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Glenwood Canyon closure has truckers trying Independence Pass, which is not allowed for semis

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Pitkin County deputy Ryan Voss takes a driver’s license at the oversized vehicle turnaround point on Independence Pass on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. Deputy Voss explained that since he had been there he had turned around 15 vehicles that day.
Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times

Predictably, the fire in Glenwood Canyon and closure of Interstate 70 is sending truckers over Independence Pass as a way around the blaze, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.

At least three semi-trucks — including one that rear-ended a car — drove over the Pass on Monday and four or five had already tried the narrow road forbidden to vehicles more than 35 feet long by about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Sgt. Jesse Steindler of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

“Either they’re illiterate or they just don’t care,” Steindler said. “Certainly they are ignorant about what’s waiting for them when they get up on that Pass. It’s completely irresponsible.”

There are numerous signs between Glenwood Springs and Aspen warning drivers of vehicles more than 35-feet long that they cannot drive over Independence Pass. The deterrents even include a magnetic strip at Difficult Campground east of Aspen that triggers a set of flashing warning lights when vehicles longer than 35-feet are detected.

Trucks can easily turn around at the winter closure gate just above Difficult, where yet another warning sign is posted.

Despite those warnings, however, truckers continue to attempt the road, which narrows to one lane in two spots on the Aspen side of the Pass and features numerous narrow sections and hairpin turns not navigable by semi-trucks and other large vehicles.

Most of the trucker traffic is coming from the Aspen side of the Pass, Steindler said. Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies wrote three $1,100-plus tickets Monday to truckers who defied the warnings, he said.

CANYON DETOUR

Drivers should anticipate additional traffic on these routes. CDOT has paused some construction projects in order to accommodate detour traffic. However, travelers should be aware of possible construction impacts on US and state highways. CDOT recommends that through traffic on I-70 use a southern detour route, due to construction on commonly used northern alternate routes.

WESTBOUND: Denver metro area motorists can travel on US 285 to US 50, and continue west to Grand Junction. Travelers on I-70 can use CO 9 to US 285 south to US 50, or use CO 91 southwest to US 24 to US 50.

EASTBOUND: Motorists traveling from Grand Junction can use US 50 east to US 285 and continue to Denver. Motorists headed to areas west of Denver can also use the westbound detour in reverse.

For residents and businesses north of I-70, the following alternate routes are best:

WESTBOUND: Motorists can connect to US 40 via CO 9 or CO 131. To continue to Grand Junction, take CO 139 south to I-70. CDOT advises commercial traffic to use CO 9 instead of CO 131, for safety purposes. Please note that while CO 13 is open at this time, it is not a recommended detour due to construction. Oversize commercial vehicles are not allowed on CO 13 due to construction.

EASTBOUND: Near Fruita, motorists can travel north on CO 139 to US 40, then south on CO 131 or CO 9, returning to I-70. As stated above, CO 13 is not recommended due to construction.

“You would think they would be aware of where they can and cannot go,” he said.

To guard against further violations and to try to ensure the safety of other drivers, the agency posted a deputy Tuesday morning near Difficult Campground in order to turn around trucks that ignore the warning signs and write more of the pricey tickets to those who turn up, Steindler said.

The Sheriff’s Office plans to keep a deputy posted east of Aspen as long as Glenwood Canyon is closed to try to avert trucker incidents and accidents like the one that occurred Monday, he said.

The accident occurred when a semi-truck coming down the Pass into Aspen rear-ended a car that was stopped or going slowly on the road, Steindler said. The truck sustained serious damage to the front-end and had to be towed, while the car drove off, he said. No one was injured.

I-70 continues to be closed Tuesday between mile point 116 (Glenwood Springs) and 140 (Gypsum) due to the Grizzly Creek Fire. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, there was not estimated time for the interstate to reopen.

CDOT recommends the US 50 route, which connects in southern Colorado via US 285 and US 24.

Other motorists and truckers are trying to use Cottonwood Pass, which runs from Gypsum and meets up with Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs at Cattle Creek Road. The Colorado Department of Transportation is discouraging driver to go over Cottonwood, which has a section of gravel road. That is pushing some to avoid the suggested round and go to Independence Pass.

Truck traffic coming from the Lake County side of Independence Pass, however, is not stopped, Steindler said. Lake County sheriff’s deputies are not keeping watch and Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation personnel are currently stretched thin and cannot help on that side, he said.

“This would definitely be a day not to go up the Pass,” Steindler said.

This story is from The Aspen Times. Contact Jason at jauslander@aspentimes.com.


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