Glenwood Canyon likely to remain closed for ‘weeks’ as I-70 assessed, repaired following numerous mudslides |

Glenwood Canyon likely to remain closed for ‘weeks’ as I-70 assessed, repaired following numerous mudslides

State of Emergency declared to free up funds

John Stroud
Post Independent
Crews continued Monday, Aug. 2, to assess the damage to Interstate 70 in the Glenwood Canyon. The road will be closed for days if not weeks, the governor said Monday.
Photo from CDOT

GLENWOOD CANYON — Interstate 70 will likely remain closed for several weeks, as Colorado Department of Transportation crews work to assess the extent of damage from several days of heavy rains and debris slides from the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.

“We’re looking at a few days to weeks, and more likely getting into the weeks category,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a Monday afternoon, Aug. 2, press conference in Golden along with CDOT and other state officials.

Having driven through the canyon “hundreds of times” over the years, he called the pictures he’s seen of the damage from several straight days of flash flooding “shocking.”

Polis had planned to join a fly-over of the canyon Monday morning, but said that was canceled due to weather concerns across the state.

The governor noted Glenwood Canyon normally sees about 2.4 inches of rain during the entire month of July. It’s seen 4 inches in five days to close out the month.

Another flash flood watch was issued for the area Monday afternoon by the National Weather Service.

The worst slide so far

While CDOT crews had been able to keep up with the frequent mud and debris flows onto I-70 going back to late June, the amount of debris and damage sustained to the highway infrastructure over multiple days since the canyon was the night of July 29 will take much more time to clean up and assess, the governor and CDOT officials said.

The Monday afternoon news conference was held live at the CDOT headquarters in Golden, and was also on Zoom and webcast via Facebook Live on the governor’s Facebook page.

CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew participated from Glenwood Springs, where she has been stationed to oversee the Glenwood Canyon response.

“It’s a very grave situation in Glenwood Canyon right now,” Lew said, describing extensive damage to the elevated westbound highway deck and parapet, or barrier, wall in several locations.

10s of millions in damage

Crews were able to clear a path for workers at the Hanging Lake Tunnel command center and the nearby Shoshone power facility, which will assist with critical operations, Lew said.

Elsewhere, multiple debris flows have clogged up the Colorado River, forcing it out of its channel and undercutting the highway structure beneath the eastbound lanes and the adjacent recreation path.

Lew displayed rock specimens from several layers deep within the geologically unique canyon that indicate the extent of the forces impacting the high canyon walls.

Lew hesitated to estimate how much the damage to the highway infrastructure will cost to fix, but said it’s already in the 10s of millions of dollars.

Once the interstate does reopen, it is likely to be down to one lane in both directions, transportation officials said.

Northern route

In the meantime, motorists are advised to take the northern alternate route from I-70 westbound at Silverthorne via Colorado Highway 9 to U.S. 40 through Steamboat Springs and Craig, and Colorado 13 south to Rifle and back onto I-70, and vice versa for eastbound traffic.

Construction on U.S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison has also been temporarily halted, so that is now an alternate route to the south.

Garfield County and Pitkin County local traffic is allowed to travel between Rifle and Glenwood and onto Colorado 82, but must exit at West Rifle and get back onto I-70 at the Main Rifle exit or points to the east.

Through-traffic is not allowed past Rifle on the west and Dotsero to the east.

Rail impacts

Union Pacific Railroad tracks through Glenwood Canyon were also impacted by mud and debris flows, shutting down both freight and passenger service through the canyon since late Thursday.

Amtrak spokesman Mark Maggiori said Monday the California Zephyr line is temporarily suspended and is not running on an alternate route, as has been the case with past closures in Colorado.

“Sometimes we will re-route through Wyoming, but UP can’t support that at this time,” Maggiori said.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Robynn Tysver said Monday that about 80% of the debris has been cleared from the tracks, and that they should be able to resume rail service through Glenwood Canyon by midweek.

“Crews continued to clear debris Monday caused by last week’s mudslide through Glenwood Canyon,” she said. “Barring any additional delays caused by severe weather or unforeseen events, Union Pacific estimates the track will reopen sometime this week, perhaps by Wednesday.”

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