GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4)– After being closed for what will be more than two weeks, the goal is to partially reopen Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon on Saturday afternoon. That’s according to Gov. Jared Polis as he toured the devastation left in the wake of damaging mudslides on Wednesday.
“As the mud has been cleared, we find that the major damage is about a 15-foot pothole, you might call it a pothole from hell. No road for about 15 feet. That needs to be fixed by Saturday. On the upper level, some degradation. We are in many ways fortunate that the structural damage wasn’t worse,” said Polis. “This is really the reason why highway 70 through Glenwood canyon is still closed. There literally is no road on the eastbound, and significant damage on the westbound.”
The eastbound lane near mile marker 123.5, or the Blue Gulch area, sustained the most extensive damage.
“You see that there is physically a hole that needs to be filled before we can get traffic onto that alignment, and we have worked aggressively with our immediate emergency contractor to have plan to have that hole filled and paved and have traffic control aligned to get that ready to move traffic back on it,” said Shoshana Lew, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Executive Director. “Then we will have to do safety tests to make sure that the road is safe for the traveling public and if all of these thing align, as the governor has said with the support of Mother Nature and you know barring the possibility of future rainfall, you know the plan is to get this back into service Saturday afternoon, and you know we can’t thank the team enough for the incredible work that is going into making it happen on that timeline.”
CDOT pointed out that some of the debris flows occurred in areas where there wasn’t even a burn scar. It was simply due to the sheer amount of water that fell in July.
“What they had modeled during the fires was a 100-year event, the rain was a 500-year event,” said Lew.
There was more than an inch of rain in 15 minutes in one case. Not only did it damage the highway, but it knocked out power to a portion of the hanging lake tower, which impacts the nearby Shoshone plant and the railway.
“They [Xcel] have a high voltage feed though here that feeds Hanging Lake tunnel- that feeds the Shoshone power damn and Union Pacific Rail Road. We have some redundant power to hanging lake right now in one tunnel, the other tunnel is operating off backup power so we wanna get that established. They’re gonna do it in two poles, run it up about 40 to 45 feet in the air so we have clearance to continue working here in the next few months, so that is the critical path that we really need to get accomplished in order to get this road… the canyon open,” said Keith Stefanik, CDOT’s Deputy Incident commander.
In the short term, CDOT plans to not only fill and pave the giant hole in the eastbound lane, it also needs to put temporary rockfall protections in place.
“You’ll see on the backside there’s these white sacks they’re called super sacks they’re filled with material, we’re going to stack those up with a crane and that’s going to aid for temporary rockfall protection while we open one lane in each direction here at Blue Gulch,” said Stefanik.
The hope is that both lanes in each direction will be reopened by Thanksgiving. A 46 mile stretch of Interstate 70 has been closed in western Colorado from Dotsero (Exit 133) to Glenwood Springs (Exit 116) for nearly two weeks.
“As the mud has been cleared, we find that the major damage is about a 15-foot pothole, you might call it a pothole from hell, no road for about 15 feet that needs to be fixed by Saturday. On the upper level, some degradation. We are in many ways fortunate that the structural damage wasn’t worse,” said Polis.
That opening does depend on the weather not slowing down the work. Polis also warned to expect short-term closures in the weeks ahead. CDOT crews have already removed thousands of tons of debris from the canyon.
The Federal Highway Administration has already released the expedited funds request from the governor’s office, releasing $11.6 million of the $116 million request. Those funds came the day after Gov. Jared Polis made the request.
The following is the route to take around the closure until I-70 reopens:
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 Highway 9. In Kremmling, travelers should turn onto westbound Highway 40 towards Steamboat Springs. After reaching Craig, motorists can return south via Highway 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 north from Rifle on Highway 13 to Craig. From there, head east on Highway 40 through Steamboat Springs. Either take Highway 131 south to Wolcott and onto I-70 from there or continue on Highway 40 through to Kremmling and head south on Highway 9, then join up with eastbound I-70 again at Silverthorne.