Polis request for $116M in Glenwood Canyon emergency aid could include funds for Cottonwood Pass upgrades, other alternate routes

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

A $116 million request for federal aid to rebuild portions of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon impacted by late July mud and debris slides could also include money to upgrade a popular local backcountry alternate route between the Roaring Fork and Eagle river valleys.

In addition to $40 million of that requested amount going to repair both visible and assumed damage and debris removal hauling costs, a portion of the overall funds would include money to study and construct safety improvements on alternate routes around Glenwood Canyon.

That would include $10 million to deal with impacts to existing state highways that are designated as official detour and alternate routes during canyon closures.

Federal funding could also go a long way to help with the long-talked-about improvements to the series of Garfield and Eagle county roads that go over Cottonwood Pass from the Glenwood Springs and Carbondale side to Gypsum.

Such alternate route safety improvements were previewed in CDOT testimony before the Transportation Legislative Review Committee last week, according to a statement issued by Gov. Jared Polis’s office Monday announcing details of the federal assistance request.

“The ongoing vulnerability due to severe erosion … will likely require improvements to diversion routes such as Cottonwood Pass to be able to withstand heavier traffic in the future while providing resiliency,” states a letter sent by Gov. Polis and Colorado Department of Transportation Director Shoshana Lew in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) Acting Administrator Stephanie Pollack.

“Prior estimates concluded that improvements to Cottonwood Pass are upwards of $50 million … subject to further assessment, which could increase this number,” the letter states.

The Polis administration is seeking $116 million in federal emergency aid through the FWHA’s Emergency Relief program.

The request asks for 10% of the total, $11.6 million, to be issued in an expedited process.

This funding is in addition to disaster declarations issued by Polis on Aug. 6 and a letter from Colorado’s congressional delegation sent the following day.

The requested amount is just an estimate, as debris removal and damage assessments in Glenwood Canyon are still ongoing. CDOT expects to update the assessments and funding requests in the next eight to 10 weeks, according to the governor’s statement.

“The ongoing closure of I-70 continues to strain people and communities throughout the region and western Colorado, and also has significant implications for interstate travel and commerce,” the letter from Polis and Director Lew states. “The corridor is vital for everything from long-haul freight to movement of agricultural products across the state to the ecotourism economy.

“While Coloradans understand the magnitude of destruction, the disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods grows as the interstate remains closed.”

In addition to the above-mentioned amounts for specific costs, the federal assistance request also includes:

  • $4 million for debris removal (including maintenance staff costs)
  • $1 million for supplemental traffic control services via contractors
  • $5 million for potential geohazard mitigation at several locations in Glenwood Canyon
  • $5 million in construction management and engineering costs
  • $50 million for future resiliency and redundancy study costs
  • $1 million for non-maintenance CDOT administration costs

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

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