Canyon reopens to two-way, head-to-head traffic
The Colorado Department of Transportation reopened Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon Thursday afternoon to two-way traffic in a head-to-head configuration, ending the daytime closure that has been in place all this week.
It was a welcome change for motorists headed to and from the Roaring Fork Valley or traversing the state via the main east-west artery who will no longer be faced with lengthy detours around the canyon, or having to wait until the canyon reopened each evening.
Traffic delays of up to an hour should still be anticipated as the westbound lanes remain closed and traffic will be running head-to-head on the eastbound lanes for the time being, CDOT officials said.
Pace cars are also still being used to help control speeds and ensure safety in the two-lane configuration.
Intermittent traffic stops during the day are also likely as work continues to clean up and make major repairs after the Feb. 15 rockslide that closed I-70 for the better part of a week, Amy Ford, CDOT director of communications, said during an afternoon telephone conference with news reporters.
“People will still be traveling through a restricted environment,” Ford said. “We will have 12-foot-wide lanes, but there will be no shoulders. Because of that, cars will still have to run behind a pace car.”
But it’s a big step forward following the canyon closures during the day this week. Nighttime pilot car operations between 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. alternated leading east and westbound motorists through a six-mile stretch, often resulting in long delays.
Traffic will now be allowed to move in both directions at the same time using the eastbound lanes.
CDOT will maintain two pace cars leading east- and westbound traffic at the same time between the No Name exit just east of Glenwood Springs and the east side of the Hanging Lake Tunnels, CDOT Region 3 spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said.
Two additional traffic-control vehicles and Colorado State Patrol troopers will also be assisting as the pace cars will need to take turns maneuvering in and out of traffic.
“There will not be as robust a delineation between the traffic lanes as we’ve had during previous construction work, which is another reason for the pace cars,” Trulove said. “We don’t want people going too fast and crossing the double yellow lines, so we need to keep speeds down.”
Delays of up to an hour or more should still be anticipated, especially during peak travel times, she said.
Ford said the goal for CDOT now is to get to a point where it can open one lane of traffic on both the eastbound and westbound side of the interstate.
“When we do get to that point, there will still be a lot of repair work going on and intermittent delays,” she said.
The rockslide brought several SUV-sized boulders crashing onto the highway below and caused an estimated $2 million to $5 million in damage to the road surface, barrier walls and guardrails. The state is seeking federal emergency funds to help pay for the repairs.
Helicopters are still being used to take tools and equipment to workers, and anytime a helicopter needs to land traffic will need to be stopped, she said.
“We are also in the process of placing fencing along the westbound lane, which will continue for the next few weeks,” Ford said.
Ford said it could take a “month or so” to complete the repairs and completely reopen both of the eastbound and westbound lanes.
In the meantime, a 10-foot width limit will remain in effect during the head-to-head configuration, though normal commercial truck traffic will be permitted.
Wide loads are required to take either the northerly I-70 detour via U.S. 40 through Craig and Steamboat Springs, or the southern route via U.S. routes 50, 24 and 285.
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Over 75,000 hikers visited Hanging Lake during this year’s peak season. Via signage, the city hopes to point more of those hikers also in the direction of downtown Glenwood Springs.