Saturday afternoon target for reopening Glenwood Canyon to one lane each direction
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday morning that state highway officials are confident they can have Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon open to one-lane traffic each direction by Saturday afternoon.
The canyon has been closed since the night of July 29 when the first of several mud and debris slides triggered by torrential rains over the Grizzly Creek burn scar covered the interstate in several locations.
Colorado Department of Transportation crews have been working since then to clear as much as 10 to 15 feet of mud and debris from parts of the roadway, and assess the damage beneath.
Polis toured the canyon Wednesday with CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew and other CDOT and U.S. Forest Service officials, accompanied by news media from across the state.
“We are pushing to get this open as quickly as we can, but of course it has to be safe before we can do that,” Polis said.
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“At this point, we are confident it will be open Saturday afternoon with one lane each way,” the governor said.
The most significant damage is in the vicinity of mile point 123.5 at what’s known as Blue Gulch, where a massive slide covered the roadway and caused significant damage to highway infrastructure.
Damage on the eastbound side includes a 15-foot deep hole across both lanes in about a 100-foot section of roadway that was caused by the flooding.
The barrier wall on the elevated westbound lanes in that same location is also severely damaged.
“The critical path to reopen is to get that roadway built back up temporarily, get it paved and safely open it to traffic,” said Mike Goolsby, CDOT Region 3 Director who was appointed incident commander for the Glenwood Canyon cleanup and repair work.
That work includes not only filling and patching the hole in the eastbound road surface, but repairing the westbound barrier wall and post-tension structural cables that were damaged.
An emergency contractor has been lined up to do that work, Goolsby said.
“We have determined the actual roadway is safe and can be opened to one lane on the north side while the repairs are made on the south side of the roadway,” said Keith Stefanik, deputy chief engineer and deputy incident commander for CDOT.
Much of canyon should be open to two lanes in both directions once the remainder of the debris is removed and initial repairs made to the road surface, Polis and Goolsby said.
“There’s really only about a three-quarter-mile patch where it would go down to one lane,” Polis said in addressing members of the media.
Polis did note that the reopening schedule is weather dependent, and anytime there is rain in the forecast things could change.
There will also likely be additional short-term closures of 20 to 30 minutes at a time to allow for road work and additional debris removal to be completed, he said.
Crews are also working to restore an Xcel Energy high voltage power line that supplies to the Hanging Lake Tunnel command center, the Shoshone hydro-electric plant and Union Pacific Railroad operations. The tunnel command has been operating on limited power from its additional Holy Cross Energy source and backup generator power since the canyon’s closure.
Polis acknowledged the Federal Highway Administration’s approval Tuesday of $11.6 million in emergency funding to take care of the initial repairs that will need to be made to I-70. That amount is part of an overall $116 million request for federal aid to deal with the long-term impacts of last year’s wildfire and the barrage of mud and debris flows that have occurred this summer.
“As the former chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation, I can say that’s probably the fastest federal grant turnaround ever,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew, who also joined the Wednesday tour.
“The progress made in the last week in this area is nothing short of a miracle,” Lew said. “Standing in this spot a week ago it looked totally different. You can’t take for granted how much work has been done.”
CDOT officials hope to have final repairs completed in Glenwood Canyon and the road reopened to two lanes in both directions by late October, and fully functional again by Thanksgiving, the governor said.
“The initial repairs to be completed will be enough to allow one lane of traffic each way by Saturday afternoon, Polis reiterated.