Silverthorne officials voice safety, public image worries as traffic clog concerns grow

Vehicles wait in line to turn left onto the westbound Interstate 70 on-ramp Tuesday, Aug. 10, in Silverthorne. Town leadership is watching updates on Glenwood Canyon work closely, as it is likely to cause traffic strain alongside I-70 construction.
Nicole Miller/Summit Daily News archive

Last summer, thousands of travelers were rerouted through Summit County after a natural disaster struck Glenwood Canyon. The town of Silverthorne quickly became a hub for not only passenger vehicles but large trucks hauling goods across the Continental Divide, and this year town leaders are closely watching to see if there will be a repeat of the chaos.

Glenwood Canyon closed frequently last summer after monsoons brought down mudslides and large rocks onto the Interstate 70, which occurred because of the Grizzly Creek Fire in the canyon in summer 2020. For any closures in 2022, travelers going westbound from Denver will again be routed north on Colorado Highway 9 from Silverthorne to U.S. Highway 40 through Steamboat Springs to Craig, then back down Colorado Highway 13 to Rifle on Interstate 70. Eastbound traffic will follow the opposite route. Town manager Ryan Hyland said that the 205 Exit, westbound traffic should be able to flow pretty easily. The eastbound traffic, however, is a different story.

Hyland said the town has discussed working with CDOT on potential signage in Kremmling to inform drivers who are unfamiliar with the area about potential options that don’t include Silverthorne.

“If you’re an eastbound driver and you’re looking to get to Denver or beyond, we think Kremmling is that decision point where that messaging could let folks know there are two routes,” he said. “They can have people check CoTrip or Google Maps when they’re in Kremmling. I think it’s about a 10-mile longer trip if you go through Grand County. That’s given how things went last year, without construction, and we were seeing backups miles long.”

In 2021, the Colorado Department of Transportation had the same route for travelers who were expecting to go through the canyon. In Silverthorne, this caused traffic to back up near the commonly congested 205 Exit. At times, the line backed up as far north as Silverthorne’s Willowbrook neighborhood — almost 3.5 miles north of the ramp — and drivers began cutting through the Smith Ranch community. Hyland said that because the highways that run through Silverthorne are used to heavy traffic from larger vehicles, strain on roads from more vehicles is not a high concern. What is, though, is public safety through the area. Hyland said that making sure that public safety and emergency service vehicles can get through clogged traffic is higher on the priority list.

When meeting with CDOT in March, Town Council members expressed concerns about how an auxiliary lane project between Exits 203 and 205 during the summer could further clog the town — especially when adding the risk of Glenwood Canyon closures.

Currently, the department is working on the interchange below I-70 at the 205 Exit. During that work, left turn lanes for both the westbound and the eastbound on-ramps will be shortened for night work, and the lanes are expected to remain shortened 24/7 until July 1. Elise Thatcher, public information officer for the northwest region for CDOT, said that there may be some lane closures on the I-70 bridge, but most work above on I-70 will be next season in 2023. If there is day work on I-70’s eastbound lanes, there will always be two lanes open.

Hyland emphasized that Summit County residents should remain patient throughout the construction season, especially for the safety of contractors and construction workers.

“​​Certainly, there’s some opportunity there to introduce folks to Silverthorne that might not otherwise have been stopping here. I guess you’re looking for a silver lining, welcome to Silverthorne,” Hyland said. “We’d like our visitors to have a positive experience, and if they’re being jammed up here for a really long time, they might not have a positive association in the future.”



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