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CDOT working feverishly to reopen damaged area of I-70

Crews have removed more than 8,200 tons of mudslide debris from closed section of I-70 in Colorado

Mudslide debris on Interstate 70 near Glenwood Canyon, Colorado. (Photo: CDOT)

Dry weather in recent days has allowed crews to work without interruption clearing mud and other debris from Interstate 70 in the Glenwood Canyon area of western Colorado. This was according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

Related: Severe mudslides trigger I-70 closure in Colorado

The area was hit by severe mudslides and debris flows earlier this month, and a 17-mile stretch of the interstate remains closed to all traffic from Glenwood Springs and Dotero. CDOT has no estimated date for reopening the road.

Crews spent the weekend hauling debris from the east and west sides of the canyon. CDOT tweeted that workers made “significant progress,” removing 440 truckloads of debris Saturday and Sunday. Each load holds 13 tons of material. They have cleared at least 195 more loads since Monday, for a total of 8,255 tons that were hauled to dump sites.

The remainder of the debris was cleared from the eastbound lanes at mile marker 124.3, between Hanging Lake Tunnel and Bair Ranch. This is an important area to assess in order to determine what is required to safely reopen I-70, CDOT said.

On the west side of Hanging Lake Tunnel, 94 loads were hauled away Sunday. Crews were able to completely uncover the remainder of the debris at the washed-out area at mile marker 123.5 (Blue Gulch) eastbound. This allowed the CDOT engineering teams to get a better look at the damage, according to a report from Denver’s KUSA-T.

In an update Tuesday, CDOT said it believed the roadway infrastructure can accommodate reopening one westbound lane of I-70, with restrictions, after additional slide material is removed and temporary barriers, rockfall protection and other roadway safety devices are installed.

The engineering teams were also able to verify that the eastbound I-70 roadway infrastructure can also accommodate reopening one lane after approximately 100 feet of embankment and temporary asphalt pavement  are reconstructed, along with installing the necessary road safety devices. 

The engineering teams will be conducting additional inspections this week at Blue Gulch. CDOT is also coordinating with Xcel Energy at Blue Gulch, as Xcel’s infrastructure includes a high-voltage line that provides service to CDOT’s Hanging Lake Tunnels and other facilities within Glenwood Canyon. CDOT was able to reestablish power to the Hanging Lake Tunnels via a redundant feed from Holy Cross Energy.

Until lanes reopen, the recommended route around the I-70 closure while traveling west is:

• Exit I-70 at Exit 205 (Silverthorne).
• Go west on Colorado 9 toward Kremmling.
• Continue west on U.S. 40 and south on Colorado 13.
• Return to I-70 at Rifle (Exit 90).

When traveling east, reverse the path. The detour can add 90 minutes to two hours to the trip, depending on traffic.

Traffic control points at Exit 87 (U.S. Highway 6) and at milepost 133 are now being run by a contractor. CDOT and contractor crews are jointly managing Exit 116 (Colorado state route 82, which leads to Independence Pass) until the contractor can mobilize more flaggers.

Gov. Jared Polis asked for $116 million in federal aid to support cleanup and repairs in areas impacted by the mudslides and debris flows. The Polis administration sought the aid through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief program, and the administration’s request that 10% of it — $11.6 million — be expedited was granted, according to a CDOT tweet Tuesday.

“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 corridor is vital for everything from long-haul freight to movement of agricultural products across the state to the ecotourism economy,” Polis and CDOT director Shoshana Lew wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FHWA acting administrator Stephanie Pollack.

“While Coloradans understand the magnitude of destruction, the disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods grows as the interstate remains closed. Federal support, including quick release of funds, will greatly assist our efforts to restore functionality to the interstate and allow people to have the connectivity they rely on,” Polis and Lew added.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.