GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Transportation announced on Saturday morning that traffic is moving again in both directions on Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon after an extended closure. One lane in each direction is open and traffic is currently being escorted through in queues after mudslides forced repairs that lasted more than 2 weeks (and are still ongoing).
The interstate isn’t expected to be fully repaired through the canyon until Thanksgiving.
During a news conference on Friday afternoon, CDOT said that traffic will be reduced to 35 mph through the cleanup zone while crews continue to remove dirt and rocks from the area where the debris flows from the canyonsides caused heavy damage during a flash flood at the end of July.
“Not only did we lose the roadway (in the mudslides), we lost probably almost 50 feet of the retaining wall that’s adjacent to the Colorado River,” said CDOT Deputy Incident Commander Keith Stefanik on Friday.
Drivers are also being instructed to keep their eyes on the road and not be tempted to stare at the repair work and mudslide damage.
Because of the long delays that are still expected throughout the weekend, drivers can still take a northern route that detours around the canyon. It’s a lengthy route:
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.
I-70 drivers should expect that there will be brief closures in Glenwood Canyon at times to allow CDOT crews and contractors to work. A closure will also be in place if flash flood warnings are issued for the area.
CDOT calls the mudslide a 500-year event and there’s still much out of their control.
“We’re not out of the clear — we have to get very good cooperation from Mother Nature and make sure she is not establishing more events that place material down on our down on the viaduct,” Stefanik said.
Both the No Name Rest Area and the Shoshone Rest Area are reopening. The Grizzly Creek Rest Area will not open immediately; it doesn’t have electricity because Xcel Energy moved its generator to Shoshone Dam. The Hanging Lake Rest Area will be closed until the U.S. Forest Service clears the trail. CDOT is using the Bair Rest Area for emergency mobilization so it will also stay closed.
On Saturday, businesses around Glenwood Springs enjoyed increased foot traffic following the reopening of the interstate. At the Pullman, a restaurant on 7th Street, managers scheduled a full staff anticipating a much busier dinner rush than they saw while I-70 was closed.
“We were definitely robbed about 3 or 4 weeks of super heavy business,” said, head front house manager Justin Wyckoff, “It’s going to get back to normal eventually. We’re going to get back to it.”
At the Bleu Door Boutique up the street, sales associate Kat Bird also saw an immediate increase in customers. She said she’s hopeful for a busy end of the summer season, but knows another bad rainstorm could change the situation in the canyon once again.
“We really do rely on it being a big, hefty summer in order to get through those rough parts.,” She said. “Hopefully we can not have another rockslide, but again, all we can do is hope, right?”
Why Are There Mudslides In Glenwood Canyon In 2021?
Several mud and debris flows in Glenwood Canyon have happened during heavy rainstorms this summer, but none were as destructive as the ones at the end of July. The mudslides are a result of the Grizzly Creek Fire, which burned up and down the canyon walls in 2020.
The 32,631 acre fire left a burn scar on the blackened canyonside that has little plant grown in it to keep the soil from eroding when heavy rainstorms pass through.