‘All hazards plan’ for keeping Glenwood Springs safe
City staff details progress on evacuation plan for fires, other disasters
Planning for the worst is a top priority for Glenwood Springs’ engineering department, City Manager Debra Figueroa told City Council Thursday.
City Engineer Terri Partch said city staff began working with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in fall 2021 to create multiple plans for evacuating the city and West Glenwood in case of a natural disaster.
While dubbed the fire evacuation plan, Partch explained a three-pronged approach to evacuating the city and redirecting traffic in the event of any natural disaster deemed a significant threat to the population as a whole.
The first prong of the plan revolves around building access-line breaks, strips of asphalt for emergency use only, connecting U.S. Highway 6 to Interstate 70 at two Highway 6 intersections: Storm King Road and West First Street.
During events like the Mile Marker No. 111 Fire of 2020, traffic trying to enter the interstate from Highway 6 creates a bottleneck that can affect the entire city, Partch said.
The access line breaks could allow emergency crews to direct traffic directly onto Interstate 70 as well as create an emergency turnaround point for interstate traffic entering Glenwood Springs from the West or East.
Partch said the access line breaks were awaiting approval from CDOT and FHWA, but she didn’t anticipate any hangups. City staff could install the breaks by summer if approved by the two agencies.
Prior to the update, the Post Independent contacted CDOT about its role in the evacuation planning. CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher said CDOT staff do not individually comment on evacuation planning during the process; however, Thatcher provided some context about the process via email.
“Representatives from CDOT’s engineering, traffic and maintenance teams review and evaluate the plan,” Thatcher wrote.
“When reviewing the plan, CDOT team members will try to catch any potential fatal flaws early on, to help the city of Glenwood Springs navigate the process in a manner in which the City is successful.”
The second and third prongs of Partch’s evacuation strategies hinge on creating plans to manage traffic in and out of city limits during emergency events.
A Traffic Incident Management Plan (TIM), which focuses on redirecting traffic within city limits, is the first step, Partch said. Glenwood Springs is working with Patrick Chavez, CDOT’s statewide TIM coordinator, to identify a group of key personnel for deciding where traffic can be stopped to facilitate emergency traffic flows. The process could take up to two years, but Partch said she was hopeful it could be complete in a year.
Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said the TIM plan was vital to managing emergencies in the future.
“It’s not just for fire, it’s really an all-hazards plan,” Tillotson said. “If I go block the interstate today, I’ll go to jail.”
With the state’s seal of approval on the city’s TIM plan, he said the city’s first responders can work with CDOT and state law enforcement to address emergency traffic hazards.
Once the TIM plan is finalized and approved, city staff could begin working on the Traffic Emergency Management Plan, which deals with managing traffic outside of city limits, she explained.
Figueroa said city staff is currently focused on the challenges presented by evacuating West Glenwood, but the goal of the planning process is to eventually address evacuating Glenwood Springs as a whole.
“We feel like this is critical for the city,” Figueroa said. “This is our engineering staff’s No. 1 priority.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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