Motorists face mountainous detour |

Motorists face mountainous detour

Christine Ina Casillas

The interstate was closed in both directions Sunday after floodwaters broke through an undergound culvert, sending gushing water into a neighborhood below and opening up a 22-foot-wide sinkhole in the westbound lanes.

Monday, residents near Bighorn Creek, in East Vail, were unable to get in and out of their homes near the creek from Streamside Circle East to mile marker 180.

Highway crews using front-end loaders and graders diverted water away from the sinkhole on I-70 so they could look for the damaged culvert about 20 feet below. A 24-mile stretch of the highway is closed indefinitely, forcing an estimated drivers of an 30,000 vehicles per day to find another way through the mountains.

Bumper to bumper

Because of the closure, motorists on Monday crawled in bumper-to-bumper traffic along a 54-mile detour on two-lane highways over two passes on the Continental Divide – Tennessee and Fremont – both higher than 10,000 feet above sea level.

“The options are fairly limited once you get into the county. But it’s not as bad today as it was yesterday,” said Kurt Mulson, patrol sergeant for the Vail Police Department. “It’s way above what it’s used to, and we sent word out to the state and to the truckers as far as adjusting their schedules and routes, letting them know that I-70 just isn’t an option at all.”

Truckers not yet in the mountains are being advised to detour on Interstate 80 through Wyoming to the north or Interstate 40 through New Mexico to the south, adding hundreds of miles to their trips.

“Years ago, it took five hours to get out of the valley, anyway, especially when it was snowing,” said Robert Milfeld, who owns a limousine company in the valley. “People had to make a two-day event out of it if they wanted to go to Denver.”

The only north-south routes in and out of Eagle County are U.S. Highway 24 from Minturn and Leadville U.S. Highway 131 from Wolcott.

“It’s bumper to bumper. We’re not used to that in Iowa,” Jeannette Leinen said of Council Bluffs, Iowa, who had stopped for gasoline in Minturn after completing the detour. “It’s an act of nature. What can you do about that?”

No accidents or injuries were reported because of the delays or detours around the mountains and “so far, that’s a good sign,” Mulson said.

“Those routes takes you way out of the way,” Mulson said.

“Enjoy the scenery’

Yet for some residents, it’s all about timing.

“It can be a taxing drive. Going toward Leadville is hard because it’s all uphill but coming back isn’t that bad,” said Milfeld. “All I can say is throw your cell phones over to the passenger side, listen to some tunes and enjoy the scenery.”

About 95 percent of the traffic traveling through Minturn is going way too fast, however, said Alan Lanning, Minturn’s town manager.

“We could have made the budget for the year from all the speeders going through town,” Lanning said. “There’s a pileup waiting to happen. People need to slow down.”

Lanning warns heavy trucks barreling into town at its northern end, near the Chili Willy’s restaurant, to slow down.

“It’s a dangerous situation around that corner,” he said. “Last night, I could hear the trucks rolling through town slamming on their choke breaks coming around that bend, hitting (near) Chili Willy’s. We’re lucky that there’s been no accidents.”

Back in East Vail, buses were were allowed Monday to transport East Vail residents, but all other traffic into the neighborhood still is closed off to through traffic.

“The regular bus services at the beginning of the East Vail route should help folks get in and out,” Mulson said. “It’ll help us, too, because there won’t be many cars cruising up and down the road.”

Alternate routes through the High Country

– Interstate 70 is closed in both directions from Vail to Copper

Mountain. Officials said Sunday the closure could last a week or more.

– Eastbound traffic is currently being diverted at the Minturn exit, mile marker


– The suggested alternate route to Denver is south on U.S. Highway 24 over Battle Mountain and Tennessee passes through Leadville, then back north on U.S. Highway 285 through Fairplay to Denver.

– The Colorado State Patrol recommends truckers to reroute through Wyoming on Interstate 80 or Interstate 40 in New Mexico.

For updates on local road closures, call 479-2226 or watch cable channel 19. For updates on state road closures, call 1-877-315-7623 or visit

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User