Missouri Heights group jumps to action over Cottonwood Pass improvements planning

A steady stream of traffic makes its way over Cottonwood Pass between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum due to the I-70 closure in Glenwood Canyon in August 2021.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent file

A Missouri Heights neighborhood group that successfully fought a summer camp proposal last year wants to be heard sooner rather than later as state and county officials begin planning improvements to Cottonwood Pass.

“We are very concerned,” Karen Moculeski, president of Keep Missouri Heights Rural, said during a work session meeting between Garfield County commissioners and Colorado Department of Transportation officials Tuesday.

“To say you’re just improving the pass, or the route to the pass, is just putting blinders on,” she said of plans by CDOT to work with Garfield and Eagle counties to make several safety improvements along the primitive route.

The series of paved and unpaved county roads that connect the Roaring Fork Valley to Gypsum and the Interstate 70 corridor east of Glenwood Canyon serves as a de facto local detour route whenever I-70 closes through the canyon.

“Obviously, this has a major impact on Missouri Heights,” said Moculeski, whose group formed in opposition to the Ascendigo Autism Services camp facility last year, which was ultimately denied by the Garfield County commissioners. The group has since weighed in on other issues impacting the various residential subdivisions that dot the otherwise rural landscape straddling Garfield and Eagle counties.

“It’s not just one road we’re talking about,” she said. “When I-70 closes, if there’s a jam on one road, people are going to go to another road.”

CDOT has begun working with the two counties to help design and construct some basic safety improvements along the route to better accommodate local passenger vehicle and light truck traffic during those closures.

But both CDOT and the respective counties insist the improvements are not intended to make the route into a full-blown I-70 detour, and that semis will not be allowed.

CDOT representatives met with Garfield County commissioners Tuesday to go over the planning efforts to date, with the goal of achieving a 20% design by fall so that the counties can seek additional funding to complete the work.

Garfield County has identified County Road 100 (Catherine Store Road) from the Colorado Highway 82 intersection east of Carbondale as the preferred access to Cottonwood Pass.

Improvements would include intersection upgrades, with turn lanes and longer acceleration and deceleration lanes, and “softening” of some of the tight curves leading up into Missouri Heights toward Upper Cattle Creek Road and into Eagle County.

This image from CDOT’s Tuesday presentation shows the sections of Garfield County Roads 100 and 113 where safety improvements would be made to better accommodate local detour traffic during Interstate 70 closures.
CDOT presentation screenshot

Similar improvements are planned for dangerous sections on the Eagle County side, including what would likely be $15 million to $20 million in work to rebuild the Blue Hill section, said Karen Berdoulay, CDOT resident engineer for Eagle and Lake counties, who is helping design the improvements.

This image from CDOT’s Tuesday presentation shows the Cottonwood Pass sections where safety improvements would be made to better accommodate local detour traffic during Interstate 70 closures.
CDOT presentation screenshot

“The overall goal is to address the safety issues in places where there have been traffic issues when Cottonwood Pass is used as a bypass,” she said. “We would be keeping it pretty much the way it is today, but just deal with those areas.”

Following the near three-week-long closure of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon last summer due to mud and debris flows that severely damaged the highway, and a two-week closure in 2020 during the Grizzly Creek Fire, federal funding was made available to plan for alternative route improvements.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., also recently introduced the I-70 Detour Act, which would require the Secretary of Transportation to study potential Glenwood Canyon alternatives “necessary to offset extended closures associated with Interstate Route 70.”

However, while Cottonwood Pass could be addressed in that potential legislation, the broader measure would look at improving a variety of state and U.S. highways that now serve as detours during those I-70 closures.

CDOT Engineer Jacob Rivera, who would serve as project manager for the Cottonwood Pass work, said the process will involve public input through open houses and, eventually, formal public comments.

Moculeski and others speaking on behalf of the Missouri Heights group said they want to be involved early on in the planning, perhaps including neighborhood meetings in addition to the open houses.

I-70 in Glenwood Canyon has experienced shorter-term closures over the years due to accidents and rockfall incidents, but the lengthier closures in recent years have brought the Cottonwood Pass option back to the forefront.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted that this is the first time Eagle County has shown a willingness to make road improvements, so timing is crucial.

“Between the three counties (also including Pitkin), we have a population of between 130,000 and 140,000, who don’t have an east-west passage when I-70 closes,” Jankovsky said, calling it a clear issue of “health, safety and welfare.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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