Glenwood Canyon I-70 outlook following 2021 closure

A significant amount of work has been done to prevent a repeat of the devastation that occurred last year.
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 11:48 PM MDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 11:52 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon has had significant infrastructure improvements done since the closures in 2021 following the fire, flooding and mudslides. A significant amount of work has been done to prevent a repeat of the devastation that occurred last year.

”We had six major piles of debris that were deposited into the river and the contractors have done an outstanding job coordinating and working to get that debris removed prior to spring runoff to protect the infrastructure from potential damage due to the constricted river conditions,” said CDOT Glenwood Springs Resident Engineer Andrew Knapp. “We’re looking at wrapping up the debris efforts this week.”

This week contractors are finishing removing the last pile from the river before spring runoff. This helps by lowering the risk of damage from high water or new mudslides.

“We had the major debris flows come in and create a constriction in the river channel in those multiple locations,” said Knapp. “What that did is it raised the water levels throughout the river system in the canyon, and it was predicted that with traditional, normal spring runoff flows that we would have enough water to inundate the interstate, close it and potentially cause major damage. So that was in response to that.”

Last August, contractors installed ‘super sacks’ after the flood to prevent water on the top of the mountain from rushing into I-70 and flooding the highway. They also improved the existing inlet structures which transports the water below the freeway and feeds it into the river.

There has also been a lot of natural restoration in the canyon following the devastation. Trees are recovering after the 2020 grizzly creek fire burn scar. Only about 12% of the burned area was badly impacted where they’re doing area mulching for soil recovery.

“When you get in these areas where the fire’s impacted the soil is the water runs off the soil it doesn’t soak in like it would have otherwise,” said David Boyd with the White River National Forest.

Following this in 2021, the runoff from the snowpack and heavy rain dug out channels in the canyon and flooded the interstate.

CDOT and multiple contractors started cleanup, restoration and infrastructure work in August of last year re-building the freeway walls, re-paving the roads, replacing the guardrails, and much more.

“We came in with two large excavators and 22 trucks and worked until three weeks ago removing 75,000 tons of material out of the Colorado River,” said Mark Miller with Lawrence Construction.

Currently, contractors are beginning a new technique in which they will build ‘bathtubs’ which are excavated areas in vulnerable areas of the canyon to catch rocks and debris when it falls so it doesn’t fall onto the interstate and cause a closure.

Next week, contractors will begin building a fence where the super sacks are to catch rocks and debris for the summer and fall seasons.

Also, CDOT is currently conducting a study on an alternate route incase I-70 does close again. They are looking at paving Cottonwood Pass and turning it into a regular county road as an alternate route to I-70 if Glenwood Canyon closes down. This would add 45 minutes to an hour as a detour.

“There’s some consensus around a concept,” said Federal Highway Administration Division Admin. John Cater. “The counties would maintain ownership of the road and it would simply be available for detour should the canyon get closed for extended periods of time. Not to have regular traffic through there, but in those emergencies to have an alternate route. This is too critical a corridor to have to have these four hour detours through Steamboat and there’s a lot of issues with that anyway.”

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