Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will be fully closed from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday as crews install some heavy-duty fencing at the site of major rockfalls in February.
The crews will use a Huey helicopter to lift 13 steel posts, weighing from 1,800 to 2,800 pounds each, to two sites along the northern canyon wall just west of the Hanging Lake Tunnel.
The highest of these fences, which are each 16 feet tall by about 200 feet wide, will be installed about 300 feet up the canyon wall.
These locations were scouted out by Colorado Department of Transportation geotechnical specialists, and the fencing will be positioned to provide some redundancy of protection, said project engineer Mike Fowler.
After these closures the rockfall mitigation project will continue, with crews working seven days a week, partly to make up for some unexpectedly late supplies, until about Sept. 1.
Two more fences will be installed with a crane at lower elevations during that time, but the project is not expected to require any more full closures past Thursday.
Some of the ongoing work installing the lower two fences may require a 10-foot vehicle restriction on the westbound lane.
These fences, equipped with braking mechanisms, are capable of stopping boulders up to six and seven feet in diameter, said Jim Stepisnik, the project manager. That’s equivalent to about 3.6 million foot-pounds of force, he said.
“These are some of the biggest high-impact fences that will have been installed in the U.S.”
I-70 was closed for nearly a week in February after major rockslides. It was the longest closure in the 24-year history of I-70 through the slide-prone canyon.
Much of the work to prep the sites of these fences, digging and pouring concrete, has been done by hand with crews hiking up to the locations, said Stepisnik.
The fences are first galvanized, then given a protective coating to give them a long working life, said Fowler.
The rockfall mitigation project has a $1.7 million budget, which Stepisnik said has so far come in on time and on budget.
CDOT has a $9 million geohazards budget and about 750 rockfall areas that the agency monitors, the Post Independent reported earlier.
Crews working on the Grand Avenue bridge project plan to take advantage of the closures to get some utility work done on the new pedestrian bridge — hopefully allowing the team to avoid a couple of night detours of Interstate 70.
Rafting companies west of Glenwood Canyon will be able to get to Grizzly Creek and Shoshone put-ins until 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, when Colorado State Patrol will start clearing the canyon in preparation for its reopening.
No private boaters will be allowed during the closure, and rafting companies east of the canyon are not being granted such access.
The traffic closure should make for a rare experience for boaters and other recreationists such as bicyclists, who will get an opportunity to enjoy the canyon free of I-70 noise.
Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., said his guides have been fighting to claim the river trips on those days.
This also comes at a peak time for rafting business, said Erik Larsson, co-owner of Whitewater Rafting LLC. “As long as you can get here, it should be a fun time with the water still flowing at great levels.
“You’d think that July Fourth is our biggest time of the year, but in reality it’s the last Saturday in July that’s always our biggest day,” said Larsson.
Jess Weaver Trail, Grizzly Creek Trail and Hanging Lake Trail will remain open, but hikers should work around the closure as they won’t be able to access I-70 during that time.
The Glenwood Canyon bike path will remain open, except periodic 10-minute holds near the Hanging Lake Tunnel when the project’s helicopter is overhead. If your trip on the bike path requires a shuttle, plan around the closure.
Westbound I-70 traffic will be forced to exit at Dotsero, and eastbound traffic will have to exit in Glenwood Springs at Exit 116. Drivers will not be allowed to queue up on I-70 for the canyon opening.
The Hanging Lake rest area will also be closed early, starting at midnight preceding evening and remaining closed until 3:30 p.m. each day.
CDOT will maintain access for No Name residents.
For alternate routes, motorists coming west from the Front Range can head south on Colorado 91 at Copper Mountain, continue south on U.S. 24 through Leadville and finally turn back west on Colorado 82 and onto Independence Pass.
This route is 123 miles and takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. It’s important to note that Independence Pass has a 35-foot vehicle length restriction.
Drivers trying to head west from Eagle County should first drive east to Wolcott, head north on Colorado 131, turn west on U.S. 40 in Steamboat Springs, then south on Colorado 13 in Craig and on to Rifle.
From Wolcott to Rifle, this detour is 204 miles and takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Drivers in Grand Junction can get to the Front Range by taking U.S. 50 east to U.S. 285 for drivers heading to Denver and to U.S. 24 for those going to Colorado Springs.
Some alternate routes have width restrictions that commercial drivers should be aware of — Colorado 131 has an 8-foot width restriction and Colorado 9 north of I-70 has a 12-foot width restriction.
Commercial vehicles west of Glenwood Canyon will be able to park in Dotsero off Exit 133.
CSP will also be staging commercial vehicles on I-70 west of the canyon closure.
CDOT does not recommend driving Cottonwood Pass, Frying Pan Road or Hagerman Pass as alternative routes.
Bustang will continue to run routes between Glenwood Springs and Denver. Visit ridebustang.com for the schedule.