Friday Q&A |

Friday Q&A

Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Ralph Trapani

Ralph Trapani has been living in Glenwood Springs since 1975 and worked as an engineer on the state’s highways system until retiring in 2002, and was the public face of the state highway department for much of that time. He is married, with a 9-year-old son, and now works as an engineering consultant.You’ve said you are spending time out in the canyon these days. Why? Did CDOT rehire you to consult? Actually, I’m spending time in the canyon because the company that I’m working for, Parsons Transportation Group, is doing some work inspecting the Hanging Lake Tunnel.Given the fact that rock falls and other geologic hazards were mentioned in the debate about Glenwood Canyon versus Cottonwood Pass, do you think the right choice was made as to the route for I-70?My answer to that one is yes. Back in the good old days they looked at three routes – the canyon, Cottonwood Pass and one over the Flat Tops. The Glenwood Canyon route was chosen largely for environmental reasons [having to do with wildlife and other issues]. On Cottonwood Pass, you would have had a Vail Pass-like route; you would have had to climb up to 10,000 feet and back down again.What do you think of the idea of upgrading Cottonwood Pass as an emergency alternate route? I don’t think it’s a good idea. … It’s not going to just be used as an emergency route, you’re going to get a lot of traffic from the locals … [and it is] a high altitude crossing, where snow- and ice-control will be huge issues, and it’s going to introduce heavy traffic into an area that’s kind of quiet now. You know, I’ve been working on I-70 my whole career, and one thing I’ve learned … it is not a reasonable expectation on the part of travelers … to expect that road to be available to them 24/7. I think a lot of the new people in Colorado take it for granted.During construction through the canyon, what work was done to minimize the hazards of rock falls? The work on the canyon really represented the state of the art in rockfall mitigation … particularly in the undercut of the cliffs to put the road in. We paid careful attention to the design of the highway so we could backfill in those areas and minimize the amount of the hazard, [plus there was] extensive mitigation up high … scaling, screening and fences. You can’t see the fences from the highway [but] they’re stopping the rocks.What measures would you suggest to monitor the canyon for rockfall hazards into the future, or has CDOT been doing everything possible in that regard? I believe CDOT has done about everything they could. CDOT goes up there annually and repairs those fences, clears them out. And now that CDOT has seen a couple of rockfalls at this one point [just west of the Hanging Lake tunnel], there probably needs to be a little more work done on just that area, but it is very difficult to mitigate that kind of rock fall.On a more personal note, what is your favorite stretch of the canyon? I still think the center canyon, that part between the Shoshone Power Plant and the small tunnel known as the Reverse Curve, is my favorite. It was our last big push in the late ’80s … the kind of job I like, a very aggressive design schedule, and it’s such a beautiful stretch of the canyon.You also oversaw much of the work in the four-laning of State Highway 82; do you foresee similar rock falls there, particularly through the canyon near the Highway 133 intersection or through Snowmass Canyon? Predicting rock falls is like predicting the weather. It’s a natural force, and we know it happens in the spring and the fall. [As for known hazard areas], my understanding is that the most hazardous section is not at 133 or Snowmass Canyon, it’s Shale Bluffs, where you get small rocks and material sloughing down onto the road.

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