Rocks on the road near Vail, Wolcott cause Wednesday I-70 closures, rush-hour gridlock
It was a busy Wednesday for Colorado State Patrol and the other first responders who work the interstate.
During the morning rush hour on Wednesday, rockfall in Dowd Canyon closed Interstate 70 westbound; later that day a rock on the road was also indirectly responsible for another interstate closure during the afternoon rush hour.
Crews responded quickly to the morning rockfall in Dowd Canyon between EagleVail and Vail, and were able to get the rocks moved off the roadway quickly. That closure was announced at about 7:45 a.m. and by 8:40 a.m., the interstate had reopened.
The evening closure was a bit more complicated.
At about 4 p.m., a tractor-trailer headed westbound hit a rock on the road in the Wolcott area at mile marker 156, puncturing its fuel tank. The resulting spill left approximately 100 gallons of fuel in both the eastbound and westbound lanes, requiring a hazmat team to be dispatched to the site.
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First responders were notified at 4:06 p.m.; a hazmat team was called at 5:05 p.m. and arrived at 6:11 p.m., said Colorado State Patrol Trooper Gabriel Moltrer.
Only the westbound side of the interstate required a closure, but the resulting detour onto U.S. Highway 6 for motorists headed westbound caused traffic to back up all the way to EagleVail.
“In my 12 years in the valley, that was the worst traffic I’ve seen yet,” local Tommy Newnes said in a social media post.
Not only was Highway 6 gridlocked, but vehicles were told to avoid side streets like Avon Road, as well, as traffic was reduced to a standstill.
In a 6:30 p.m. estimate, Avon Police Chief Greg Daly said he expected the closure to last 1-3 hours, and he turned out to be correct as the highway reopened just after 8 p.m. Traffic started moving in Avon at about 8:30 p.m.
While the incidents came as a surprise to those on the road, there’s nothing unusual about rockfall on the roadway during the spring season in Eagle County. As snowmelt enters small cracks in rocks during the warmer daytime hours, it freezes and expands at night, jarring rocks loose.
Dowd Canyon has been identified by the Colorado Department of Transportation as a problem area when it comes to rockfall, and mitigation efforts have taken place in an effort to prevent further incidents. A 2019 mitigation effort in Dowd Canyon required intermittent shutdowns of the interstate while crews performed rockfall mitigation work on the hillside above the highway between exits 173 and 171.
But that mitigation work doesn’t ensure more rockfall won’t take place, as evidenced by the incident on Wednesday.
No one was injured in either incident on Wednesday.