One lane of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon reopened in each direction on Saturday morning after a two-week closure prompted by mud and rock slides that buried and damaged the heavily traveled route.
But the Colorado Department of Transportation warned motorists to prepare for traffic and other delays. The agency also warned that a full reopening is still months away.
“There are going to be reduced speeds,” Shoshana Lew, who leads CDOT, said during a news conference on Friday, asking people to realize that they are driving through a work zone. “Be respectful of each other and be respectful of the speed limit.”
Lew and her deputies said it will take until Thanksgiving to fully complete repairs on the interstate through Glenwood Canyon and get the traffic flow back to normal. Gov. Jared Polis has requested $116 million for the project.
Officials were initially fearful that the route might have to be fully closed for months.
“It’s not short of incredible how much has been accomplished in a short period of time,” Lew said.
The mud and rock slides happened in areas of the canyon that were torched last summer by the Grizzly Creek fire. Rainfall carried debris down the canyon, burying the roadway in several feet — or tons — of earth.
On July 29, the day the route closed, more than 100 motorists were forced to spend the night on the interstate because of debris flow.
Keith Stefanik, the deputy incident commander and deputy chief engineer for CDOT, said storms on July 30 and July 31 then caused “major damage” to the interstate. He said there was “tremendous infrastructure loss.”
“We need to reconstruct portions of the westbound deck.We lost the side barrier, we lost structural strands that go across the interstate,” he said.
Almost 50 feet of retaining wall along the Colorado River was destroyed as well.
Lew called the storm a 500-year event, citing modeling from the U.S. Forest Service.
Stefanik said CDOT still needs mother nature’s cooperation to reopen the route — and keep it open. The threat of mud and rock slides remains.
Stefanik warned that there will also be overnight closures of the canyon in the coming months.
“CDOT will open this, it will open it safely,” Stefanik said. “We’re hoping to exceed expectations and have (the work) done before Thanksgiving.”
The speed limit will be 35 mph in the canyon during the partial reopening. Motorists are asked to keep their eyes on the road and not stop to observe damage.