Canyon reopening thrills businesses; CDOT suggests patience and caution for motorists
Local businesses were nearly doing backflips for joy at the reopening of Interstate 70 on Monday after a near two-week closure due to the Grizzly Creek Fire.
“Ecstatic,” said Cindy Svatos, longtime employee of Confetti Designs at 731 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs.
“It’s going to make a tremendous difference,” she said. “I’m already seeing more traffic coming through town right now.”
That joy was shared by Krissy Clary, owner of the Co. Ranch House restaurant at 704 Grand Ave.
“We are ecstatic that we are able to salvage what’s left of our summer season,” she said. “We’ve staffed back up for the coming weekend. I think people will be excited to get back to Glenwood.”
Motorists traveling through Glenwood Canyon need to be aware that caution and patience are advised. A head-to-head traffic configuration on the lower, eastbound lanes remains in place between the Hanging Lake Tunnels and No Name, same as before the Aug. 10 closure when construction was taking place on the upper, westbound deck. That work remains suspended.
“I would plan for 40 mph in the canyon,” said Elise Thatcher, Northwest Colorado communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“Our biggest concern is distracted driving because having an accident in that (head-to-head) detour slows everything down for everybody. … We’re really hoping we can get people to pay attention on the road,” she said.
While CDOT says the road is safe, it is concerned about debris flows should there be a heavy rainstorm in the area.
“We are confident that the road is safe to drive on as it is right now. We’re also confident that we have a sense for when to anticipate a debris flow,” Thatcher said.
When conditions signal a slide risk, CDOT will close the road in advance.
“When it looks like the conditions are right for a debris flow, we’re going to close the canyon two hours before that’s expected to happen. That’ll give us plenty of time to put the closures in place … and clear traffic from the canyon.”
With that in mind, motorists should check the weather and prepare a Plan B.
“We’re asking motorists — if there is weather in the forecast — to be prepared that you may need to take an alternate route,” Thatcher said.
Determining slide risk takes some experience.
“We are working with really smart people who evaluate burn areas,” Thatcher said. “We have a lot of great information that we are working with, and we’re working with folks who specialize in this sort of thing.”
More information will be available this week about drainages that are at risk for debris flows, Thatcher said.
“There are areas that are more likely to have debris flows in the canyon, and this is one reason why we have rest area closures. We don’t want people to stop where it’s more likely that materials will come down on them,” she said. She mentioned Grizzly Creek as an example.
CDOT was lucky to have a detour already in place in the canyon, Thatcher said.
“We already had the head-to-head detour in place for the Phase 7 surface improvements project, and being able to immediately have that as a detour option so we don’t have people on the westbound deck — which is more vulnerable to things coming down — is a big resource for us,” she said.
One possible future delay in the canyon that “is not on the short list,” Thatcher said, is clearing boulder fields of rocks, a process known as rock scaling. Rocks may be at risk of falling because supporting vegetation has burned away.
“I haven’t heard any specific discussion about scaling,” she said. “Job number one has been reopening the canyon safely.”
And local businesses are happy about that.
“We’re thrilled. It’s been just devastating after the pandemic,” said Tara Meixsell, who works the front desk at the Silver Spruce at 162 W. Sixth St. “We were finally getting tourism back, we were doing well. Even with COVID protocols we were selling out. People were getting last-ditch vacations in, and then the door slammed shut.
“Everyone had a huge smile on their face this morning,” she said.
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