Canyon closure strains area supply chains
The extended closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon as crews battle the Grizzly Creek Fire has strained supply lines for just about everything from gasoline to groceries to beer.
City Market stores on the Western Slope are supplied from Denver. In an email, City Market spokeswoman Jessica Trowbridge wrote that detouring past the canyon — on a southern route through Gunnison, Montrose and Grand Junction — has delayed deliveries by six to eight hours.
“Our teams are working diligently to get products to all impacted stores as quickly as possible,” she wrote.
The canyon closure has also affected operations at the U.S. Postal Service. Spokesman James Boxrud noted that all mail for the Western Slope is processed at a facility in Grand Junction. Boxrud said that mail, and the trucks it’s hauled in, may take longer to get to destinations. Some trucks have been rerouted to accommodate the changes in transportation routes, he said, adding that the postal service has an emergency response task force to evaluate alternatives.
Even with the transportation complications, Boxrud said only 72 addresses in the Glenwood Springs area can’t have mail delivered.
Tom Cain is the operations manager for the Glenwood Springs location of Quality Brands of the Rockies, a beer distributor with clients on both the east and west sides of the canyon.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Cain said, adding that the canyon closure is just one more problem added onto a summer that’s already been troublesome.
An aluminum can shortage — a result of tariffs on China and growing demand for at-home consumption, Cain said — had already pinched Quality Brands’ ability to deliver product.
Quality Brands had a delivery of Anhueser-Busch products earlier this week, and Cain said he doesn’t expect another delivery for some time, perhaps until the canyon reopens.
“We’re taking care of customers on this side (of the canyon),” Cain said, adding that the company is working on a plan to deliver east of the canyon on Friday.
Cain was one of several people interviewed for this story who said the region needs an alternative to I-70.
But improving Cottonwood Pass would probably be a prohibitively expensive project. A 2010 evaluation by Eagle County showed that improving the road with 12-foot lanes and 6-foot shoulders would cost at least $66 million.
But, Cain said, “How much is the closure costing Glenwood, or anybody going to Aspen or Vail?”
Adding hours to delivery trips causes more than delays.
Cain said his firm has put drivers in hotels for deliveries.
The costs only increase for long-haul drivers.
Colorado Motor Carriers Association Director Greg Fulton noted that federal rules require drivers to work no more than 11 hours in any 14-hour period. Drivers keep electronic logbooks, which are “timed to the second,” Fulton said.
The rules mean a Denver to Grand Junction trip that might take a day with the canyon open now requires a driver rest period due to the long detours the closed canyon requires.
Those delays have affected operations at other area companies.
How do you move a trackhoe?
Travis Bossow is president of RA Nelson, a construction firm with operations in the Vail Valley and Roaring Fork Valley.
Bossow said the company has designated couriers to take smaller items from one valley to the other.
The company is purchasing materials locally whenever possible, but if equipment has to move, it gets complicated.
“You look at your options and select the best possible solution,” Bossow said, adding that right now, “It’s havoc.”
Alpine Bank has a little easier time, at least these days. Michael Brown is a regional president for Alpine, and has his office in Avon.
Brown noted that unlike even 20 years ago, much of the bank’s work can be done online, adding that in the case of cash and supplies, the bank can use suppliers in Grand Junction or the Denver area.
But people on both sides of the canyon can only wait to see how the Grizzly Creek Fire evolves.
A crucial artery
Fulton said he’s been advising association members to plan, not just for the current detours, but also for future interstate shutdowns.
Fulton noted that it’s hard to overstate I-70’s importance to the state, and even national, economy.
“It’s really the only major east-west corridor in the state,” Fulton said, adding that he’s been encouraging interstate trucking firms to avoid I-70 and route their drivers either through Interstate 80 in Wyoming or Interstate 40 through New Mexico.
“The challenge comes in serving some of the Western Slope communities,” Fulton said, since most groceries, fuel and other items come out of Denver.
Delays add both time and costs to deliveries.
“At some point that has to be passed on,” Fulton said. “Hopefully this (closure) is only a few days.”
Like others interviewed for this story, Fulton said transportation officials need to look at adding “resiliency” to the state’s transportation system.
Fulton added that perhaps the only silver lining to the interstate shutdown is that fewer vehicles are on the road this summer.
“If you’d have a normal summer season and had this happen, it would be really tough,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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