Half of interstate reopens in both directions
SUMMIT COUNTY – Traffic was expected to be moving – albeit, slowly – over Vail Pass by late Tuesday night or early today after Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews worked around the clock to open the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70.
CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said traffic was to be directed to the eastbound lanes, with one lane each accommodating eastbound and westbound traffic.
All vehicles can use the interstate, once reopened, but Stegman said truckers are being “encouraged” to use the alternate east-west routes of Interstate 80 through Wyoming and Interstate 40 through New Mexico.
Work to repair the westbound lanes will continue for a couple weeks, Stegman said. Once work on the westbound lanes is completed, the two-lane traffic will be moved to the westbound lanes so the eastbound section can be restored fully.
High streamflows from Bighorn Creek in Eagle County eroded soil from around a culvert beneath the highway, eventually breaking the pipe and creating a 20-foot-square sinkhole in the westbound lanes Sunday afternoon. The culvert is a 6-foot-wide corrugated metal pipe that channels water from the creek under the highway and back into Gore Creek below.
CDOT crews immediately closed the interstate in both directions.
“Our first concern was that it would go at any moment,” Stegman said. “We were concerned that any amount of weight would cause it to slide down the hill.”
The water poured through Vail, flooding about a dozen homes and forcing the evacuation of about 400 residents Sunday. Preliminary estimates put damage to town roads around $1 million.
While Vail residents scurried about placing sandbags around million-dollar homes, about 20 federal and state maintenance and engineering crews spent the past three days pumping water from the sinkhole and diverting the creek from the pipe’s opening. As of Tuesday afternoon, they still had 1 to 2 feet of standing water in the pipe. Once the pipe is empty, they’ll inspect the culvert to determine the extent of the damage.
Damage might have been caused by something puncturing the pipe or by water pressure funneling into the creek. CDOT likely will need to replace the culvert. Officials at the state agency haven’t even started tabulating the costs of repairing the damage.
“It’s going very, very well,” Stegman said. “Everyone’s pretty optimistic we’re making good progress.”
Other crews spent Tuesday paving part of the median on either side of the sinkhole so drivers can access the eastbound lanes. One lane of traffic will head west, and the other will head east. When CDOT crews finish repair work in the westbound lanes, they will divert traffic to those lanes to work on the east side of the highway.
Stegman said engineers are confident the eastbound lanes are stable and can carry the 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles that usually travel over Vail Pass every day.
For the past three days, CDOT has diverted vehicles to Highway 91 to Leadville and Highway 24 to Minturn. Commercial truck drivers were advised to avoid the interstate altogether by using Interstate 80 through Wyoming or Interstate 40 in New Mexico.
CDOT officials have allowed some local traffic, notably an ambulance that needed to go from Vail to Denver Tuesday morning, access through the area.
The stretch of highway between mile marker 180 in Eagle County and 195 at Copper Mountain won’t be completely reopened for at least two weeks, Stegman said.
In the meantime, crews are watching the skies and hoping rain doesn’t fall and refill the streambeds.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related Story Online:
– http://www.vaildaily.com – On Tuesday, Vail officials began assessing damage to several
roadways in East Vail caused by the overflowing waters of Bighorn Creek.
– For updates on road closures, call 1-877-315-7623 or visit http://www.cotrip.org.
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