Interstate 70 closure extended due to ‘extreme damage’ from latest mudslides; Amtrak route shut down
Note: This story has been updated with information about the additional closure of the Union Pacific Railroad line through Glenwood Canyon since last Thursday’s mudslides, including suspension of Amtrak’s California Zephyr passenger train.
Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday afternoon.
“This assessment was provided by senior operations supervisors and engineering staff who described damage to the viaduct structure unlike anything they had seen before,” a news release states. “CDOT crews are assessing damage and continue to clear debris and mudflow when weather conditions are safe.”
CDOT Denver Metro Communications Manager Tamara Rollison said Sunday there currently is no estimation as to when I-70 will reopen.
“Our region — three crews — is out there in full force,” she said. “And then we have other regions that are also augmenting them as well, too.”
Support Local Journalism
I-70 has been closed to traffic since Thursday night. A quick storm moved in and hit the Grizzly Creek burn scar, in the process stranding 108 motorists and their passengers. Some took refuge in the Hanging Lake Tunnels area and were eventually evacuated. Meanwhile, between 65-70 people were stranded at the Bair Ranch exit and were also eventually evacuated.
No one was injured or killed.
In addition to the interstate closure, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks through Glenwood Canyon were also impacted by mud and debris flows, shutting down both freight and passenger service through the canyon since late Thursday.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Monday that the California Zephyr has been temporarily suspended and is not running on an alternate route, as has been the case with past closures in Colorado.
“Sometimes we will re-route through Wyoming, but UP can’t support that at this time,” Magliari said.
UP spokeswoman Robynn Tysver said Monday that about 80% of the debris has been cleared from the tracks, and that they should be able to resume rail service through Glenwood Canyon by midweek.
“Crews continued to clear debris Monday caused by last week’s mudslide through Glenwood Canyon,” she said. “Barring any additional delays caused by severe weather or unforeseen events, Union Pacific estimates the track will reopen sometime this week, perhaps by Wednesday.”
Every time it rains, CDOT workers who are mobilized to clean up and mitigate the area have to be pulled out and wait until it stops raining to start working again.
“But our number priority — and I just can’t stress it enough — is safety to the traveling public,” Rollison said. “And also safety to our crews and the folks who are working in the canyon. When we have a threat of rain, we evacuated them.
“We get them out of there so that they are out of harm’s way,” she added. “But when it’s safe for them to come back, they go back in and they do their work. So it’s quite an effort that is going on right now.”
Motorists are advised to use the alternative northern route via Interstate 70. Westbound motorists should use Colorado Highway 9 north toward Steamboat Springs, U.S. Highway 40 west toward Craig and Colorado Highway 13 south toward Rifle, and vice versa for traffic coming from the west.
This summer, CDOT is closing the interstate when a flash flood warning is issued for the burn scar area.
“For trucks planning to travel through Colorado, CDOT recommends they take Interstate 80 through Wyoming,” the release states.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org