Eagle County officials call frequent Glenwood Canyon closures ‘unacceptable’
Trucks double- and triple-parked in Dotsero creates a safety hazard
The Eagle County commissioners Monday talked about what, if anything, can be done when Interstate 70 closes through Glenwood Canyon. The options aren’t great.
197: Road-closing crashes the past two years in Glenwood Canyon.
70: Of those crashes were caused by heavy trucks.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney last week was stuck on the Roaring Fork Valley side of the county when a heavy truck crash closed both east and westbound lanes of the interstate for roughly 12 hours.
“When I was stuck over there, there were cars and trucks everywhere,” McQueeney said. McQueeney added that trucks in Dotsero were double- and triple-parked during the closure. That made getting kids home on school buses somewhere between difficult and impossible.
Commissioner Matt Scherr said if the traffic snarls were in Avon or Edwards, more people would be up in arms about the interstate shutdowns.
Scherr added that the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is working with the Colorado Department of Transportation about traffic trouble in Dotsero. But, he added, the transportation department “isn’t the most responsive agency in the world.”
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Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry also noted that the state’s COTrip.org website isn’t an effective way to communicate with the public about road closures.
The problem with the canyon is more pronounced in the winter, since the route over Cottonwood Pass is closed. Bad weather can also be hazardous for travel on the long northern detour up State Highway 131 from Wolcott.
The Cottonwood Pass road is a county road between Eagle and Garfield counties. That creates its own problems.
Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll noted there’s a $20 million state grant possible for just one stretch of the road, Blue Hill. But, he added, Garfield County officials are reticent about talks to make Cottonwood Pass a 12-month road. There are a few ways to get from the top of the pass down to State Highway 82 into Glenwood Springs, Shroll said, which means a number of residents in different areas could be affected. In addition, phone service in the area is nonexistent in places. That could add to road closure problems, he said.
Chandler-Henry noted that state officials have estimated that an I-70 closure costs Colorado about $1 million per hour in lost economic activity. But, Shroll noted, people traveling through Garfield and Eagle counties aren’t the only ones affected by canyon closures.
“I know people who couldn’t go to doctor appointments,” Shroll said. In addition, essential employees, both public and private, are often stuck on the wrong side of the canyon.
While there are no easy answers, Chandler-Henry said it might be worth sending a letter to Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, the state’s U.S. senators.
Chandler-Henry added that the senators are probably aware of the problem. But, she added, the canyon is a frequent chokepoint on a federal highway.
Chandler-Henry also suggested that the county go on record with the state transportation department that “this is unacceptable.”