GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Since Saturday, Colorado Department of Transportation crews have been working around the clock in Glenwood Canyon to clear the debris flow from mudslides on Interstate 70, but the consistency of the slides was making efforts difficult.
“It looks like real watery muddy ash,” said Chuck Decker, the highway maintenance supervisor for CDOT. “It’s so watery it’s just hard to move, you know? And there’s so much of it. We can only get so many trucks and so many loaders in the narrow part of the canyon. We probably have 10 to 15 trucks running right now and three loaders.”
As Decker and his team began clearing Saturday’s debris which blocked lanes, a second, larger slide came down Sunday, blocking both lanes of I-70.
“The challenge is not really being able to judge for sure how much mud and debris is in there until you get into it, and then as you move it, it keeps coming down the slopes,” he said.
Decker said the debris field from Sunday covered all four lanes of traffic and was about 100 feet long and around 4 to 5 feet deep. Thanks to the long hours pulled by crews, CDOT had the eastbound lanes open by late Monday afternoon and westbound lanes opened just before 6 p.m.
Some anxious travelers opted not to wait, and against CDOT’s recommendations, took alternative “shortcuts.”
“I thought ‘Oh it’s a lot faster to go this way.’ Big mistake,” Tom Michael told CBS4.
Michael was able to laugh at himself once through Cottonwood Pass, but after hauling a moving trailer and his family through the narrow dirt road, he’s just glad he’s still happily married.
“Not as happily as before maybe, my wife’s a little mad at me for as fast as we were trying to get through there,” he joked. “Even if it’s longer, I would’ve definitely taken another 4 hours not to have to drive that.”
With more wet weather on the way, CDOT says motorists should be prepared for more closures, and as Michael learned, GPS doesn’t always point you in the best direction.
“It can only take so much saturation and pretty soon it comes to a point where it can’t hold, and down it comes,” said Decker.
CBS4 Meteorologist Chris Spears says the possibility of another flash flood is high this week, as a large plume of moisture moves into Colorado from the south. Light wind speeds over the state will mean that storms move slowly and will be capable of producing heavy rain.
If an I-70 closure due to another mudslide lasts for more than an hour, CDOT will recommend drivers take the alternative route. That route is to the north of the canyon and adds approximately 2.5 hours to the drive in either direction. If such a recommendation is put into place, the following is the route to take:
WESTBOUND I-70: Motorists coming from the Denver metro area or Interstate 25 can travel westbound on I-70 to Silverthorne, then turn north onto CO 9. In Kremmling, travelers should turn onto westbound US Highway 40 towards Steamboat Springs. After reaching Craig, motorists can return south via CO 13 towards Rifle. Access to I-70 westbound is at Rifle.
EASTBOUND I-70: Motorists traveling eastbound from Utah or Grand Junction can reach the Denver Metro area by traveling the route above in reverse.
CDOT also warned drivers who might get stopped in a traffic jam due to a closure to stay in their vehicles. They wrote: “Never hang out in the grassy median located between lanes. If traffic is moving in the opposite direction, the median can be a hazardous area. Emergency response vehicles and heavy equipment may also need the median area to move about and access the emergency scene.”
Follow all of CDOT’s updates on road closures.