The safety of travelers through Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70 will require innovative solutions to deal with the power of water and gravity for the foreseeable future.
When the highway was built, sections were raised on pylons to allow water to pass through and allow animals to access the river below the causeway. But not at Blue Gulch, where the worst damage from torrential rains on July 31 and August 1 that caused mud and boulders, some the size of small cars, cascaded down the ravine at 1,800 feet above.
While there are options to mitigate mudslides like this, they will all be very expensive, says Dr. Chris Senseney, professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado.
“There are a few options I can think of right off the bat,” Senseney said. “One of them is to build openings under the pavement so that debris can potentially flow under the road through a culvert or something like that.”
“Another option that I heard about is to build some kind of basin in which the debris could flow out and be collected,” continued Senseney. “Whenever that happens, you can send crews over there to clear that debris and maintain this area. “
There might be room for elevated watersheds at Blue Gulch, but obtaining equipment to build and maintain them would require building a road to get there, and that is not a likely option given the rugged and steep terrain.
“I guess a third would be something like what you see in some really bad avalanche areas where you have a shed that carries debris over the pavement,” Senseney said.
None of these possible engineering solutions will be in place any time soon, says Senseney, “I think the moral of the story is that there is no quick fix to this problem.”
Designing a backup and bypass route is no less daunting and probably about as expensive.
Cottonwood Pass between Gypsum and Glenwood Springs has become a popular bypass for Eagle-area residents to and from jobs in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Cottonwood Pass isn’t as rugged as the other logging roads in the mountains around the canyon, but Garfield County Sheriff Joe Vallario is adamant that tourists and those unfamiliar with the area don’t try. not to use it as an alternative to the approved north detour, especially not semi-trailers with trailers. To prevent truckers from trying, Eagle and Garfield Counties have stationed workers at either end of the pass road to prevent oversized vehicles from trying.
Cottonwood Pass is a narrow, steep gravel road with tight bends that is unsuitable for large trucks, RVs, and RV trailers. Besides the slope and width, some sections are totally impassable when wet due to the extremely slippery mud.
Improving the pass as a workable bypass option for Glenwood Canyon has been a topic of discussion for decades. The main obstacle is cost. Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said: “It would take federal funding for that. It’s probably over $ 50 million. I don’t think we can get it to the point where the semi-trailers can go through it, but I think we can get it to the point where it can be a two-lane country road that could handle some of the traffic. I- 70. “
Senseney said: “They need land on both sides of the road to widen it. They don’t own this land. So the only big problem is getting the right of way.
Most of the road passes through private property, and in the past proposals for road widening and paving have met with strong opposition from residents along the road as well as members of the community. Glenwood Springs. However, the state can acquire the necessary right of way using eminent domain power if landowners balk at the project.
Gov. Jared Polis included a $ 10 million request to study Cottonwood Pass upgrades in a letter to the Federal Highway Administration on Monday as part of a request for a $ 116 million disaster assistance program. dollars to reopen I-70 and mitigate future mudslides.
“In addition, the continued vulnerability due to severe erosion described above will likely require improvements to bypass roads such as Cottonwood Pass to be able to withstand heavier traffic in the future while providing resilience,” the letter. “Previous estimates have concluded that the improvements to Cottonwood Pass represent more than $ 50 million, of which more than $ 50 million has been carried over into the estimates below, subject to further evaluation which may increase this. number.”
The Federal Highway Administration responded to the request on Tuesday, a business day later, with a grant of $ 11.6 million as part of its quick release process, or 10% of the total requested by Polis.