Rankin asks state about Cottonwood upgrade | VailDaily.com

Rankin asks state about Cottonwood upgrade

Two area elected officials would like to see the state take a look at its potential role in upgrading Cottonwood Pass between Garfield and Eagle counties to serve as a year-round alternative to Interstate 70 during Glenwood Canyon closures.

“I have asked some of the transportation folks here at the capitol to at least look into it,” said state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who represents Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties in the Colorado House of Representatives.

Rankin said he received several calls from constituents inquiring about Cottonwood Pass during a near week-long closure of I-70 in the canyon following a massive rockslide on Feb. 15.

Traffic delays in the canyon continued this week while Colorado Department of Transportation crews remained busy with cleanup and repair efforts.

Travel remains limited to two lanes of head-to-head traffic along the eastbound side of the interstate, using pace cars to control speeds through a six-mile stretch.

“It sure seems that, in this situation, had that road been passable at least for passenger cars, it would have been a big help,” Rankin said of Cottonwood Pass.

“It probably would be a really difficult situation for big trucks, but I don’t think it would take that much improvement to be an alternative for passenger cars,” he said.

The road over Cottonwood Pass climbs up Cattle Creek (Garfield County Road 113) from Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs for about 10 miles before crossing into Eagle County and continuing on CR 10A for another 15 miles to Gypsum.

Rankin lives on Missouri Heights at the western end of the route, and said he often uses it during his summertime commutes to and from Denver. However, the pass is closed during the winter and not available as an option for several months out of the year.

Garfield County maintains the road almost to the county line, even during the winter. But it would need a chip-seal surface for about another 2.5 miles in order to be usable during the winter, county Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

“I would say it almost has national significance in terms of security to be able to get around Glenwood Canyon (during closures),” Jankovsky said. “Think about the loss of revenues for businesses just during those 10 days.”

Eagle County remains the biggest player, but has not looked into what it would take to upgrade the road since the last multi-day closure of Glenwood Canyon due to a rockslide in March 2010.

At that time, the county determined it would cost over $40 million just to improve the Eagle County portion of the road for year-round passenger car use, not including wintertime snow plowing costs.

“You are probably talking tens of millions of dollars just to get it to county road standards,” Jankovsky, who said he has been in touch with Eagle County officials about opening the conversation, said.

“It would take either state or federal funding to do that,” he said.

Eagle County Commission Chairwoman Jill Ryan said her board has not yet addressed the issue since the most recent I-70 closure, but that such a discussion is likely to occur soon.

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