Many Eagle County workers’ commutes hurt by canyon closure |

Many Eagle County workers’ commutes hurt by canyon closure

It could be ‘days or weeks’ before even partial reopening

A number of people who work in Eagle County commute from homes west of Glenwood Canyon. The commute for those people has become more difficult, and, at times, hours longer.
Colorado Department of Transportation/special to the Daily

Many of us commute to work. For some, the drive to work has become much longer thanks to the closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.

Massive weekend rockslides in the canyon have closed the highway there for an indeterminate amount of time. The Union Pacific rail line is also closed through the canyon, shutting down both freight and passenger service.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis in a Monday press conference said he expects the full closure to last somewhere between days and weeks, depending on the extent of damage to the highway. It’s going to take at least several days to assess that damage, Polis added.

Meanwhile, a number of people who work in the Eagle River Valley and live west of the canyon face longer — sometimes much longer — trips to and from work.

Cottonwood commuters

A good number of those people work for Eagle County. Eagle County Human Resources Director Hollis Dempsey wrote in an email that the county has roughly 40 employees who live west of the canyon. Dempsey noted that “several” of those employees work in the Roaring Fork Valley. Several more are able to work remotely as needed.

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Dempsey wrote that employees at the moment are using Cottonwood Pass — a mostly-dirt, often-narrow road — between Gypsum and Glenwood Springs.

“We are in the process of working to better understand the long-term impacts to staff and schedules,” Dempsey wrote.

Gypsum Fire Protection District Chief Justin Kirkland said that agency has four employees who live west of the canyon. Those people tend to use Cottonwood Pass during brief canyon closures.

Wet weather can make that road close to impassable. That means people can be faced with a much longer commute, from Rifle to Craig to Steamboat Springs to Wolcott.

Kirkland said the department tries to accommodate those living west of the canyon through trading, or people on this side of the canyon taking over shifts when needed.

The Eagle-based Greater Eagle Fire Protection District also has several firefighters and administrative staff who live west of the canyon.

Firefighters often work shifts that have them on duty 48 hours and off for another 96. Firefighters in Eagle can stay at the fire station in Eagle.

Cupp noted the station has a few extra beds to accommodate those who might need to stay another night or two.

Remote doesn’t work sometimes

Unlike jobs that allow people to work from home, firefighters have to be on duty and ready to respond 24 hours a day.

Cupp added that working with firefighters and staffers includes finding ways to ensure they aren’t doing anything to put themselves or the public at risk.

In the case of administrative employees, Cupp said those people can work remotely if needed.

“COVID taught them how to be very resilient — whether it’s working from home or a coffee shop,” Cupp said.

“We’re having to adjust with this,” Cupp added. “We need to make sure we’re fully staffed.”

Eagle County Schools is on summer break, but district communications director Matt Miano said the district has about eight people who live west of the canyon.

School principals are working on a case-by-case basis, Miano said. Some solutions include possibly finding temporary housing for those employees.

“We just need to take it day-by-day.”

Day-by-day is the approach being taken by state transportation officials.

Polis Monday said he’s instructed the Colorado Department of Transportation to open the highway as quickly as is possible. But that’s going to be difficult.

Polis said Monday the current goal is to have the interstate fully open by the time the coming ski season begins.

By the numbers

247: Miles from Wolcott to Grand Junction on an Interstate 70 detour.

4 hours, 24 minutes: Estimated trip time.

4: Inches of rain has fallen over Glenwood Canyon in the past week.

2.4: Average canyon rainfall during July.

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