Damage caused by mudslides to Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon on Aug. 1, 2021. (CDOT)
A 40-mile stretch of Colorado’s only east-west interstate highway will remain closed indefinitely amid unprecedented damage from recent mudslides and the “ongoing” threat of additional monsoon rains, state officials said Monday.
A safety closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has been in place since the night of July 29, amid the latest in a series of mudslides that have threatened the highway in the area impacted by the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire. Officials are preparing both state and federal disaster declarations, Gov. Jared Polis said in a briefing at the Colorado Department of Transportation’s operations center on Aug. 2.
“We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage, so we’ll give a range,” Polis said in response to questions about when the highway could reopen. “It’s a few days to a few weeks — best case is a few days, more likely getting into the weeks category.”
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In recent months, temporary closures of I-70 near Glenwood Springs have become a regular occurrence due to damage caused by the Grizzly Creek Fire. The fire itself closed the interstate for two weeks in August 2020.
But CDOT engineers said on Sunday that the latest mudslides had caused damage “unlike anything they had seen before.” During Monday’s media briefing, Polis said that parts of the highway are still covered by ten feet of mud.
“It’s shocking,” the governor said. “This is a major transportation artery, so on top of the people who live there and the recreational use, this is also disruptive to trucking and commerce and the flow of goods across Colorado, which is yet another reason we need to get this fixed as quickly as possible.”
Polis said that CDOT’s initial goal will be to reopen I-70 with at least one lane of traffic in each direction. But crews haven’t yet been able to fully assess the damage that’s been done — and the situation could get worse before it gets better.
“The monsoon weather patterns mean this threat is ongoing,” Polis said. “Today’s hail and rain could lead to additional slides, and we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Fueled by climate change, Colorado’s historic 2020 wildfire season burned more than 650,000 acres across the state, leaving behind burn scars that are more vulnerable to dangerous debris flows. At least three people were killed in Larimer County last month in an area burned by the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire, the largest in state history.
The latest I-70 closure and detour information is available at COtrip.org.
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