Traffic moving on battered I-70
Interstate 70 re-opened twice Wednesday.
One lane of cars was moving in each direction Wednesday evening after crews struggled to keep the flood-damaged stretch of East Vail freeway open. The interstate, shut down by a sinkhole Sunday, first re-opened early Wednesday, but was closed later in the morning when the road began drooping.
The sudden closure caused a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that backed up into Eagle-Vail Wednesday morning.
“There’s a lot of water under the lanes, and they started sinking a little bit,” said Stacy Stegman, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “We needed to evaluate how safe they are.”
During the closure, motorists had been re-routed from Minturn south on U.S. Highway 24 to Leadville and back up to Copper Mountain. Crews had worked around the clock since Sunday, replacing the culvert under I-70’s eastbound lanes and repaving the roadway in East Vail, Stegman said.
State transportation crews opened I-70 again around 4 p.m., Wednesday.
“The crew workers say they’re confident about the opening and they’re ready to go,” Vail spokeswoman Suzanne Silverthorn said. “The crew workers have said they even feel comfortable that the interstate can carry the heavy loaders along the road.”
The big issue now is funneling traffic as smoothly as possible along the partially opened interstate, she said.
It is unclear when all four lanes of the freeway will reopen and traffic over Vail Pass will return to normal, she said.
A report circulating Wednesday afternoon that said the interstate would be closed for longer than a month to was “way out of line and completely inaccurate,” Stegman said.
Two weeks was the longest the department of transportation ever though I-70 would be closed, she said.
Despite the erratic openings and closings of the interstate, drivers for one local shuttle service made their trips back and forth to the Front Range.
“We’re treating it as business as usual with a scenic route thrown in for flavor,” said Tom Ball, executive vice president of East West Resort Transportation. “Anyone who drives in the mountains knows about detours, especially in the winter. You just have to move on down the road.”
A 24-mile stretch of the interstate was closed Sunday when swollen Bighorn Creek washed out a culvert under the highway, opening a 22-foot-wide sinkhole in the westbound lanes. The surging creek flooded some East Vail homes and heavily damaged two streets, Columbine Drive and Spruce Way.
Repairing portions of the two streets may cost the town approximately $500,000.
The town may seek state or federal assistance to help with the repairs, Silverthorn said.
“Those streets will have to be rebuilt,” she said.
Town crews also have checked other roads in East Vail, Silverthorn said.
“There was some buckling and dipping along Bighorn Road, a road that goes underneath the highway … to the west (of the sinkhole),” she said. “We needed to check and make sure it was OK for traveling.”
During the closure, vehicles wider than 12 feet have forced to take the 54-mile detour through Leadville, or avoid Colorado altogether. But now, transportation officials say that roads will hold any traffic.
State crews are still examining why the East Vail culvert failed.
Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz Wednesday evening commended work crews for preventing a more serious disaster.
“I think we should consider ourselves very fortunate in how something worse was averted,” Kurz said. “The most important part of course now is that I-70 is open again and we are not cut off in away.”
There were healthy crowds Wednesday for the opening events of this weekend’s TEVA Mountain games. Had the freeway collapsed during a busier time of year, however, the financial damage could have severe, Kurz said.
He also sympathized with East Vail residents still dealing with the effects of the flood.
“I think we’re through the worst,” Kurz said. “Of course, it’s going to take a little while for the people in East put the pieces back together.”
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