Traffic delays expected in Glenwood Canyon after major rock slide
Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon may be closed intermittently Wednesday through the weekend, as highway crews break down and remove boulders and patch potholes caused by a major rock slide Tuesday morning.
The 7 a.m. rock slide occurred near milepost 122, about five miles west of Glenwood Springs. For several hours, the interstate was closed in both directions.
Crews were able to reopen both eastbound lanes around 10:45 a.m. and one westbound lane an hour later, after removing the debris that could be scraped away with front loaders. It could take some time before all lanes are open.
“We’ll be able to allow traffic through once we get the blasting done and the potholes filled,” said Lisa Schwantes of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Some of the boulders that fell were the size of SUVs, Schwantes said, and about 10 still had to be drilled and blasted into smaller pieces to be removed late Tuesday afternoon. That work will continue Wednesday morning.
“Even if you’re going eastbound toward Denver, you can expect periodic delays as well. We stop traffic when that blasting is taking place,” Schwantes said.
Traffic also has to stop when crews do scaling operations to remove loose or semi-loose debris from the hillside.
CDOT expects to do some scaling along the canyon wall where the rock slide occurred, but it’s unclear where or how extensive that operation will be. The crews want clear weather to properly inspect the hillside, using either a crane or a helicopter.
“We need a break in the weather, and we’re not expecting a break until Thursday. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for Friday to get going on additional inspection and potential scaling,” Schwantes said.
“We want to err on the side of safety, so it’s likely that in the coming days we will be doing some rock scaling adjacent to this location,” said Ty Ortiz, a geohazards expert with CDOT.
With freezing at night, and moisture during the day, the risk of rock fall increases.
“We do believe there are some areas there that are susceptible to similar failure,” Ortiz said.
Officials did not pinpoint any other locations they are concerned with in the canyon.
“It’s really difficult to pinpoint any particular spot of the canyon. We keep an eye on the cliff walls as best we can. We’re at the mercy of mother nature during this freeze-thaw cycle,” Schwantes said.
During the Tuesday closure, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol were recommending westbound drivers head north through Steamboat Springs on state Highway 131, west through Craig on U.S. Highway 40 and south to Rifle on state Highway 13.
During such closures, Cottonwood Pass between Gypsum and the Cattle Creek area south of Glenwood Springs is not a recommended alternate route, especially during inclement weather.
A major spring snowstorm that continued into the night Tuesday also resulted in a lengthy safety closure Tuesday morning on Interstate 70 eastbound at Vail Pass.
For the latest road conditions along I-70 and other Colorado highways, visit CDOT’s cotrip.org.
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