Update: I-70 reopens in both directions through Glenwood Canyon

Peter Baumann and Shannon Marvel
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
An aerial view of the debris flow blocking the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon.
Photo from Colorado Department of Transportation

UPDATE 1:12 p.m. Saturday, July 24: Interstate 70 is now open in both directions through Glenwood Canyon.

Original story:

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon remain closed due to potential structural damage underneath the roadway.

The news comes after weeks of mudslides have repeatedly closed the thoroughfare as a result of heavy rainfall on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.

A structural assessment cannot be completed before crews can cut a channel for displaced Colorado River water to flow away from the interstate, Colorado Department of Transportation Region 3 Director Mike Goolsby explained. Depending on the extent of damage, eastbound I-70 will remain closed for repairs to ensure it is safe for motorists.

“Last night, one of the debris flows that came out was in the Devil’s Hole drainage, which is basically south of the railroad tracks on the other side of the interstate,” Goolsby said. “This debris flow was quite large. It basically dammed off the river, and it found the path of least resistance when it started to flow again” next to the interstate surface.

Debris is blocking the Colorado River and is sidled up to the edge of the I-70 deck in Glenwood Canyon and will need to be diverted away from the road, which will require cutting through the debris field.

Goolsby said there is no estimated time of reopening the eastbound lanes due to expected heavy rainfall in the forecast Saturday, July 25.

While a Friday, July 23, alert from Garfield County warned of possible debris coming down the Colorado River, that danger has passed for now, unless additional rain brings even more significant debris down into the riverbed, Goolsby said.

“Based on what’s coming down right now, it’s coming in small pieces; it’s not going to come all at once,” he said.

Debris flow from Devil’s Hole Creek blocks much of the Colorado River, diverting water so that it’s running right along the eastbound surface of Interstate 70.
Photo from Colorado Department of Transportation

Multiple debris flows occurred during recent heavy rainfall. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has said monsoonal rains are likely throughout the western Colorado region throughout the week.

All that and the current state of debris flows mean the one question many people have — an estimated time for reopening — is just not available, CDOT Communications Manager Tracy Trulove said. CDOT crews, however, continue to work around the clock where it is safe and reasonable to get traffic flowing through the canyon once again.

“One of the things that CDOT’s been doing a fantastic job on is bringing in reinforcements,” she said. “We’ve got crews that have been out there with dump trucks and several loaders and working, you know, the scenario around the clock.”

Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposed alternate route while Interstate 70 is closed through Glenwood Canyon. Courtesy of CDOT

Beware navigation apps

While CDOT is actively working with Waze, Google Maps and others to keep travelers off alternate routes that are not suitable for heavy traffic, it is still possible that people will find themselves automatically routed on roads such as Cottonwood Pass, Trulove said.

“On Cottonwood Pass, we’re really only trying to put local traffic through there,” she said. “But people are using it like the interstate, and it’s a safety situation.

“We’ve already seen several rollover accidents occur on that roadway.”

Regional travel impacts

It’s not just the I-70 corridor feeling the effects of Glenwood Canyon’s closure: Communities along the 220-mile northern detour route are seeing significantly more traffic, including in Silverthorne, where the eastbound detour ends after sending travelers through Craig, Steamboat Springs and Kremmling.

Goolsby said some of those roads are not meant for the level of use they’re currently experiencing but that CDOT would go in to do repairs where needed.

“We will have to go out and do some additional maintenance and to take care of some of these areas that are beat up pretty bad,” he said.

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