New canyon crunch: Beat 9 a.m. closure
Joe Farago of Chicago was waiting it out Monday afternoon in the Village Inn parking lot in Glenwood Springs, hoping to be among the first in line for the scheduled 4 p.m. opening of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.
“We’re flying out of Eagle tomorrow morning, and I’d rather not drive the three-plus hours,” Farago said of the alternative daytime detour north through Craig and Steamboat Springs.
“Some friends said they tried driving all the way around, and it was a mess,” said Farago, who has been skiing in Aspen since last weekend.
Likewise, Minnesota resident Tim McLane was in Aspen skiing for the past three days. He said he cut his final day on the slopes short so he could be among the first through the canyon Monday evening.
The Colorado Department of Transportation decided Sunday evening to begin allowing traffic back through the canyon during limited evening, nighttime and morning hours, using pilot cars to lead people through the rockfall zone west of the Hanging Lake Tunnels. Wide loads of more than 10 feet are not permitted.
Work continues between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily until further notice to clean up massive amounts of rocks and debris following a huge rockslide a week ago that kept the 12-mile stretch of I-70 completely closed for the better part of six days.
During those daytime hours, motorists traveling the I-70 corridor still must take one of two circuitous detours, either north on Highway 13 from Rifle to U.S. 40 from Craig to Steamboat Springs, and either state Highway 131 or 9 back to I-70, or south from Grand Junction via U.S. Routes 50, 24 and 285 into Denver.
CDOT Region 3 spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said things went smoothly overnight with the pilot car operation, which is being used to lead east and westbound traffic through the canyon in alternating fashion. However, once Monday morning hit, traffic got heavy and it was taking up to two hours to get through the canyon, she said.
Standing near the Dotsero interchange east of the canyon Monday afternoon at 2 p.m., Trulove said cars and trucks were already starting to queue up in anticipation of the 4 p.m. opening.
CDOT would rather motorists not do that, mainly because there is limited parking on either side of the canyon, in Glenwood Springs and Dotsero. Motorists are also not being allowed to line up in traffic lanes, she said.
At Exit 116 in Glenwood, no one was being allowed onto eastbound I-70 before the 4 p.m. opening unless they could prove they live in No Name just east of town. Frustrated drivers could be seen driving around along Sixth Street or out to West Glenwood to find a place to wait things out.
A lot of it comes down to planning the timing of a trip accordingly and allowing plenty of time, Trulove said, especially during the morning rush.
“If you haven’t made it to Exit 116 by 9 a.m., you’re not going to make it through,” she said. “If people are trying to thread that needle, they may be disappointed.”
Regular updates on the status of I-70 through the canyon continue to be posted at http://www.cotrip.org, and on CDOT’s 511 information phone line.
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