DENVER – Colorado Department of Transportation officials said plans remain on track to reopen Interstate 70 to one lane of traffic in both directions by Saturday afternoon after crews were able to work through the week without the threat of mudslides.
CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said Friday afternoon that so long as weather permits, and there is just a slight chance of rain in the area over the next 24 hours, that the canyon would reopen “no later than tomorrow afternoon,” though she did not give an exact time.
A mile-long stretch near Blue Gulch – the area which suffered the worst damage from the large mudslides in late July – will only be open to the single lane in both directions, but most of the rest of the canyon will have two lanes open in each direction.
Mike Goolsby, the CDOT Region 3 Transportation Director, said engineering and maintenance crews made “major strides” this week because of good weather to prepare for the road to reopen after being closed since July 29.
Keith Stefanik, the deputy chief engineer for CDOT, reiterated what the department said earlier this week – that inspections of the infrastructure remaining in the Blue Gulch area showed it would be safe enough to reopen one lane in both directions.
Crews installed 150 “super sacks” – bags filled with 3,000 pounds of soil each – on the northern side of the westbound lanes this week that is expected to try to stop any rockfall or debris flows that might come down the debris path.
They also were able to pave the eastbound side and reestablish the embankment of the 100-foot section that had been covered with debris, and to get a temporary barrier and pavement in place in the westbound lanes.
Stefanik and Lew said the goal is to get an emergency contractor finalized by Aug. 23 to do the repairs to get two lanes in each direction open through the full canyon by Thanksgiving at the latest.
Lew said the speed limit in the one-lane areas would likely be 35 miles per hour and urged people to pay attention to the road and not the damage in the canyon or the ongoing construction. She and other officials who spoke at an afternoon news conference said people should treat the area as a work or construction zone.
“Keep an eye on the road and drive with extraordinary care,” Lew said.
Beyond this weekend, crews will work to reconstruct part of the westbound deck, barrier and structural strands and shift traffic as they work to repair the road. They will have to repair the retaining wall next to the Colorado River and are still working on digging out a bike path that ran along the interstate and was buried by debris.
There were nearly 20 mudslides that took place in Glenwood Canyon between June 26 and Aug. 3 on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar. Lew said Friday that Forest Service officials have estimated that the rain events that caused the mudslides at the end of July – when 2-4 inches fell in an hour at times, were 500-year events.
The Federal Highway Administration earlier this week approved $11.6 million in emergency funding for the repair project – part of a $116 million request for federal funding made by Gov. Jared Polis on Monday.