I-70 reopened after two avalanches, both natural and man-made
January 10, 2017
The Interstate 70 mountain corridor is open after a day of closures following two avalanches, one on Vail Pass and another west of the Eisenhower Tunnel.
The avalanche on Vail Pass was a natural slide that occurred just after 3 a.m. in an area known as the Narrows.
At about 12:45 p.m. Colorado Department of Transportation reopened westbound traffic on Vail Pass, though eastbound traffic remained closed due to a significant slide mitigation crews brought down just west of Eisenhower Tunnel at about 11 a.m.
That purposeful slide, which brought down snow about 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep across the interstate, closed I-70 in both directions between Silverthorne and Georgetown until about 3:15 p.m, when the interstate was completely opened.
Also, Colorado 133 over McClure Pass was closed late Monday afternoon due to the high avalanche danger and was to remain closed Tuesday for avalanche control, as a slow-moving winter storm swept across Colorado and was expected to linger all week.
Just before 9 a.m. Tuesday a semi crash, and numerous other wrecks, closed westbound I-70 west of Fruita until about 11:30 a.m.
Earlier Tuesday morning CDOT announced via Twitter that avalanche control was possible on all mountain passes throughout the state, while many passes and roads were already closed for avalanche work.
Overall, CDOT officials urged motorists to take it slow and avoid travel if possible during the unusual storm that brought freezing rain to the lower elevations and heavy, wet snow to the high country.
High winds on the Front Range prompted a decision by CDOT not to allow high-profile vehicles on Interstate 25 between Monument and the New Mexico state line for several hours Monday, and several other high mountain passes including Red Mountain, Monarch and Colorado 65 over Grand Mesa were closed for avalanche control.
“We are seeing a lot of different weather activities all across the state,” Mike Lewis, deputy executive director for CDOT, said during a Monday conference call with reporters. “We will see an extended period of heavy snow up high, but the freezing rain and rain mix at the lower elevations adds some complexity to that.”
Icy roads Monday morning caused a fuel tanker to overturn on eastbound Interstate 70 between Dotsero and Gypsum, resulting in a day-long closure of that stretch of interstate and a detour onto the U.S. 6 frontage road. Numerous accidents all along I-70 from the Utah state line across the Rocky Mountains resulted in intermittent closures all day long and into the night Monday.
Colorado 13 north of Rifle was also closed up Rio Blanco Hill before reopening before noon.
“Our crews are fully deployed, and will be for the duration of the week,” Lewis said.
In the meantime, motorists should be aware of changing weather conditions, especially in the transition zones between snowy roads in the mountains and wet, possibly ice-slicked roads at the lower elevations.
“People need to drive defensively and adjust to the conditions,” Lewis said. “We all see this out there, where people are driving way too fast for the conditions. When you are coming off of the higher mountain elevations, and down to lower elevations you have to be aware that there are still slippery conditions, especially in shady areas.”
A multi-car pileup on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon last Friday and another on Sunday afternoon resulted in lengthy closures. Several motorists were also seen receiving tickets from the Colorado State Patrol, likely for driving too fast for the conditions, according to one eye witness who was in the canyon at the Grizzly Creek staging area at the time.
The overturned tanker truck near Gypsum resulted in a hazardous materials cleanup that took most of the day Monday. Eastbound I-70 was finally opened a little after 5 p.m.
Colorado 133 over McClure Pass from Marble to the Collbran cut-off was to be closed through the night and Tuesday due to the avalanche danger, and Colorado 65 on Grand Mesa also was closed for avalanche danger, although access to Powderhorn ski area was kept open. Avalanche mitigation on both 133 and 65 was to commence at daybreak.
The National Weather Service forecast is for a sustained winter storm for the northern and central mountains that was expected to last through Friday morning. Travel conditions are expected to deteriorate due to heavy and blowing snow with a rain and snow mix that could turn icy, especially on mountain passes, according to the forecast.
The storm has been a boon for ski areas around the state. The Weather Service forecast was calling for upwards of 2 feet of snow near Sunlight Mountain Resort by the end of the day Wednesday.