Following historic rainfall, Glenwood Canyon restoration work could soon see removal of debris from Colorado River
State agencies could start removing material soon from the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Elise Thatcher said.
During a water infrastructure townhall Monday hosted by the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance, Thatcher and members of several Colorado River and Glenwood Canyon stakeholder organizations provided an update on Glenwood Canyon rehabilitation and preventative maintenance measures following the mudslides in late July and early August.
Thatcher said maintenance work on Interstate 70 continues at a steady pace, and CDOT is slated to have all lanes east- and westbound open before Thanksgiving.
CDOT crews removed about 3,300 truckloads of debris from Glenwood Canyon as part of an effort to restore full functionality to I-70, which closed between exits 109 and 133 for several days after the mudslides.
A section of the interstate in Blue Gulch, near mile marker 123.5, experienced the most damage, Thatcher said. Prior to the mudslides, CDOT invested in some preventative measures to reduce the impacts of debris flows from the Grizzly Creek fire impacting interstate traffic, such as laying out shredded wood-straw mulch, installing fencing to catch rockfall and upgrading formerly installed rockfall fencing to accommodate increased debris snowfall.
Looking forward, Thatcher advised travelers to plan their trips using http://www.cotrip.org with the possibility of interstate closures in mind in the event of additional rain and debris-fall events.
“If you do come across material flows in your travels, stay in your vehicle,” Thatcher advised.
Drew Petersen, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management west region field manager, told attendees several federal and state agencies have collected river data since the mudslides with the goal of determining impacts to the waterway and how best to rehabilitate the river.
“There’s a definite risk to the highway, railroad and bike path if things are left to sit as they are,” Petersen said.
Colorado agencies made the decision to move forward with removing material from the river, though details about funding, when the work would occur and where are still being refined, Petersen said.
“CDOT will most likely be in charge of contractors removing material,” he said. “There’s no problem anticipated with the removal for downriver users, but we’re working on a notification system for downriver users if the need should arise.”
Petersen said crews could work on material removal during the winter with the goal of completing the removal project before spring.
Union Pacific Senior Director of Public Affairs Nathan Anderson said the main tracks through the canyon are clear, but UP crews are still working to clear sidings, low-speed track sections distinct from a running line or through route such as a main line, branch line or spur.
Daily traffic for the Glenwood Canyon tracks includes two Amtrak trains, 2-3 Burlington-Northern Santa Fe trains, 2-3 UP trains and the Rocky Mountaineer train about twice a week, Anderson said.
“We put together a special train to move excavation equipment into the canyon for initial material removal efforts,” he said. “And, we’re conducting rail inspections multiple times weekly.”
The U.S. Forest Service is acting in a support role for operations in the canyon, said Roger Poirier, White River National Forest recreation staff officer for the Forest Service.
While some crews are researching cost-effective debris-fall mitigation strategies, Poirier said the recreation team is looking at options for reopening the Hanging Lake Trail.
“I can tell you the lake is blue and 70-80 percent of the trail is perfect,” he said. “Unfortunately, the other 20 percent is gone completely, including some of the bridges.”
Despite the closure, numerous hikers have expressed an interest in hiking to the picturesque location, regardless of the dangers, Poirier said. The Forest Service is looking into the possibility of creating a temporary trail to let experienced hikers make the climb, but efforts are also underway to completely rehabilitate and upgrade the main trail with the goal of creating a trail that can withstand high volume traffic and survive future weather events, he said.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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