GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – The full closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon due to rock slides will continue into at least Sunday afternoon and possibly into next week. It is the longest that stretch of I-70 has been closed, ever.
Repairs to I-70 and rockfall mitigation will cost between $2 to $5 million with no time given for completion. It is the largest scaling effort in the last 20 years for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Officials with CDOT said on Saturday afternoon they don’t expect to allow any vehicles through the canyon until noon on Sunday and possibly into next week.
Even then the opening will be limited traffic with significant delays of more than an hour as the pilot car leads vehicles through the area one lane at a time.
The highway has been closed to traffic from Glenwood Springs to Dotsero since late Monday night, when there were two large rock slides that damaged the highway. Since then, extensive work has been done by CDOT crews on the canyon walls to try to prevent more slides.
CDOT officials say as long as rocks continue to fall, they will keep the roads closed for safety precautions.
Overnight Thursday into Friday morning crews brought down additional rock, between 50-60 cubic feet scaled by CDOT crews. On Saturday morning, more rock was brought down the hill, including some boulders measuring 10 feet.
When CDOT does open the highway only one lane will be open. Vehicles will be guided by a pilot car back and forth through the canyon in single file along one eastbound lane of I-70. That could add up to delays of more than an hour.
The one lane configuration for eastbound traffic will begin at exit 116 in Glenwood Springs where the pilot car will pick up traffic. For the westbound lanes, traffic will begin at exit 129.
Crews will come down from the mountain about 4:30 p.m. Saturday and give CDOT officials an update on the work that has been completed so far. When the interstate reopens will be contingent on what the crews have to report.
Repairs and rock mitigation have been delayed by the weather as rain and hailstorms hampered progress. It was a continuation of delays that began on Thursday with foggy conditions, rain and snow.
More snow has been forecasted for Monday night into Tuesday along with rain.
A helicopter that had been helping to mitigate the rock danger on Tuesday and Wednesday was unable to fly on Thursday.
“The inclement weather resulted in about three additional hours of rock scaling work for our crews this morning,” said CDOT Region 3 Transportation Director David Eller in a statement. “Fortunately, the weather was clear today and crews benefited from the ability to fly tools and materials up to the work site with a helicopter.”
It’s unclear exactly when more lanes will be opened through the canyon. Ford said the work will be similar to other rockfall mitigation projects with scaling and rock work.
“The biggest news for drivers planning for weekend travel is that they will be taking detours going from the Western Slope back and forth, taking that north and south detour,” said Ford.
Ford said once the geohazards team comes off the mountain on Sunday they will have more information to determine a reopen time frame for I-70 and whether the rock wall is stable.
The roadway suffered significant damage to the cantilever walls, some rocks punched through the roadway and there was also surface damage.
Once initial repairs are made and the rocks are stabilized, crews will work on a more permanent solution. Ford said that includes additional fencing, conditions of the rock higher up the mountain and a permanent stabilization of rock to the area to prevent future rockfalls that cause significant damage.
CDOT officials are assessing whether they’ll ask for federal disaster assistance funds to help cover the cost.
CDOT has designated two detour routes for drivers, one to the north through Wolcott, and another to the south over Monarch Pass and through Gunnison. Both will take about the same time.