Saturday morning report: When will I-70 reopen? Maybe today, maybe not
State transportation officials are noncommittal about a specific reopening time for Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon this weekend, as heavy rains overnight Thursday continued to cause problems with rockfall mitigation.
“We are still tracking toward a weekend opening, and our goal is Saturday,” Amy Ford, Colorado Department of Transportation communications director, told reporters in a conference call Friday afternoon.
“The weather really did not cooperate with us last night when we had a significant amount of rain and hail,” she said. “We had to go back in and rescale the areas we had already done before, because there was such a deluge of rain.”
Three more rockfall incidents occurred overnight in different parts of the canyon outside the big slide zone west of the Hanging Lake Tunnels, indicating just how saturated and unstable the slopes remain, Ford said.
I-70 through the 12-mile stretch of canyon east of Glenwood Springs was to remain closed for a fifth straight day into Saturday and until CDOT officials decide it’s safe to let traffic onto the roadway again.
At that point, east and westbound traffic will be led in alternating fashion by pilot cars through a six-mile zone on a single eastbound lane between the Grizzly Creek Rest Area and the east side of the Hanging Lake Tunnels, where extensive repairs will be underway.
Motorists are discouraged from attempting to queue up on either side of the closed area in anticipation of the interstate reopening, Ford said.
“It will definitely not be before noon,” she said, adding it’s not out of the question that the closure could continue into Sunday or longer. CDOT’s geohazards team was expected to give a status report on the progress of their work at the end of the day Friday, before any decisions were to be made.
“We will try to meet our goal, but it’s not good to have people sitting there waiting,” Ford said.
The pilot car operation is likely to be in place for several days as CDOT crews continue to assess the extent of damage to the elevated westbound lanes. Motorists should expect up to hour-long delays getting through the canyon in the meantime, especially during peak times when CDOT sees around 300 vehicles per hour pass through Glenwood Canyon.
Ford said the eastbound lanes have been deemed structurally sound by engineers to be used by motorists led by pilot vehicles.
The westbound lanes bore the brunt of the impact when more than 30 cubic yards of rocks and debris came crashing down onto the interstate around 9 p.m. Monday, damaging one semi-tractor trailer but causing no injuries. CDOT officials had reopened I-70 in the canyon earlier that morning after a smaller rock slide.
Officials are now estimating the cost to make repairs will be in the range of $2 million to $5 million, and the state will likely be seeking federal disaster relief funds to help pay for it.
“There is damage to the cantilevered walls, and some structure damage where rocks punched through roadway, and also some surface damage,” Ford said.
Once the interstate is reopened to free-flowing traffic, it could still be limited to two-way, head-to-head traffic in the eastbound lanes for a period of time while repairs are being made. Motorists should also expect occasional delays as permanent rockfall mitigation work continues, she said.
“People should anticipate some longer-term closures for that rockfall mitigation work, not unlike what we often have to do in that corridor and around the state,” she said.
Detours around Glenwood Canyon continue to be the northerly route eastbound from Rifle via state Highway 13 to U.S. 40 from Craig to Steamboat Springs, and either state Highway 131 south to Wolcott, or continuing over Rabbit Ears Pass to Highway 9 to Silverthorne.
The southern detour is via U.S. 50 from Grand Junction to Gunnison and over Monarch Pass to U.S. Routes 24 and 285 on to Denver. Those traveling from the Roaring Fork Valley can also take Highway 133 over McClure Pass to Delta, connecting to the southern route from there.
Traffic was delayed along the northern detour route Friday morning due to an accident on Highway 131 at Oak Creek caused by icy roads. There have also been numerous reports of aggressive driving and speeding, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks, who joined the Friday conference call.
“What we’re hearing from our maintenance crews is that a lot of people are getting impatient, and are simply driving too fast,” Shanks said. “Folks need to slow down and take it easy.”
Ford said the permanent rockfall mitigation that is being planned in Glenwood Canyon will involve additional sensors to track what’s happening on the cliffs and help CDOT plan for more scaling operations as necessary.
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