Improvements made in Glenwood Canyon that could save motorists time

A semi-trailer truck that crashed in the median just west of the West Glenwood exit on Interstate 70 on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Last Wednesday, Glenwood Springs had an overturned semi-truck at the Glenwood Springs exit on Interstate 70, just west of the Glenwood Canyon. It didn’t cause a lengthy closure, and there are some reasons for that.

“We added a front-end loader in the canyon,” Elise Thatcher Region 3 Communications Manager at Colorado Department of Transportation. “We put it there so we can immediately use it to help more quickly move a crashed semi to one lane.”

Although this particular wreck did not require the front-end loader, access to the machinery at the Hanging Lake command center in Glenwood Canyon should reduce future closures in the canyon. 

Many of the worst highway closures in Garfield County are along I-70 in  Glenwood Canyon, because of the lack of space to access wrecks or fallen rocks.

There is no frontage road to divert traffic or get emergency responders in, no median or grassy middle area for debris to be temporarily moved to and no pull-off lanes or wide shoulders. All of these aspects help departments like Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Department of Transportation move accidents along other parts of I-70 faster. 

The recently overturned semi-truck near Glenwood Springs was able to be easily towed because of access points for the tow trucks and a grassy median where most of the excess debris landed, said John David, CDOT Region 3, Section 2 maintenance superintendent.

Front end loader moved small boulder in Glenwood Canyon.

David explained that a big challenge for accidents in the canyon is getting resources to the accident while traffic is building up. 

“Sometimes we have to shut down both sides to get the loader there,” David said. 

Depending on where the accident happens impacts whether the needed resources are moved in from Gypsum or Glenwood Springs, and that could take additional time with a lot of traffic build up. 

The front-end loader being stored in the actual canyon gives CDOT crews a valuable resource to move debris from collisions, overturned commercial motor vehicles and even boulders from rock falls. 

Thatcher said that CDOT would previously work to move the entire wreckage before reopening the highway in the canyon, but they recently decided to use the loader to move the debris to one lane in order to open the other lane for partial openings. 

“We prefer not to have people drive next to crashed vehicles,” Thatcher said. “This will help us get to the crash and push the wreckage to the side more easily and open as quickly or safely as possible.”

Front end loader now being kept in Glenwood Canyon for collisions and boulder removal.

Although the crash is still a distraction for passing drivers, CDOT is willing to try the new approach to get people where they are going.

In places like Vail Pass, CDOT has an auxiliary lane that allows them to buffer the accident from passing drivers with the extra lane. Glenwood Canyon doesn’t have the space for a buffer or auxiliary lane, so driving carefully will be crucial for safety, Thatcher said.  

CDOT also added additional safety signage throughout the canyon, like truck tipping signs and sharp turn arrows and electronic reminders for the CMV left-lane restriction in the canyon.

Canyon speeds have also been regulated during recent snowstorms with plow trucks and Colorado State Patrol guiding drivers through the canyon variable speeds are also lowered to 35 MPH at times due to weather or other hazards. 

Now that winter is almost over and there is less snow, rock fall is a seasonal concern in the canyon, too. The front-end loader proved to be additionally helpful with moving smaller boulders in the canyon recently. 

There has been one fatality this winter in Glenwood Canyon due to rock fall ,and drivers are encouraged to follow variable speeds in case of fallen rock on the road, Thatcher said. 

How much does speeding actually save you in the canyon? From the Glenwood Springs exit to the Dotsero exit, it is approximately 18.8 miles. Variable speeds in the canyon are usually set between 35 to 50 MPH.

Time it takes to travel 19 miles (rounded)
3535 minutes
4029 minutes
4525 minutes
5023 minutes
5521 minutes
6019 minutes
6518 minutes
7016 minutes

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