Recent wrecks have Glenwood Canyon under scrutiny from Colorado Department of Transportation

Cassandra Ballard
Post Independent
Jackknife collision blocking westbound Interstate 70 on Jan. 28
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

Glenwood Canyon was the site of six separate wrecks involving semi trucks in January. 

That’s caused a lot of uncertainty for locals and visitors alike who take Interstate 70 through the canyon for their commute or winter vacation plans.

“Winter in the canyon is the problem,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said in an interview.

The semi-truck collisions resulted in either a partial or full closure in the Glenwood Canyon. 

While wrecks involving passenger vehicles also occur in the canyon, Godes said the stakes are typically much lower. A canyon collision in his Prius has a lot less chance of causing a 12-hour closure and requiring a hazmat team to clean up massive amounts of fuel or other chemicals. 

“It’s annoying that people have to go to one lane, but it doesn’t usually shut down both lanes unless it’s multi-vehicle, and it gets cleared up very quickly,” he said about commuter vehicular collisions in the canyon. “There’s no hazardous spill, and it (rarely) extends to both lanes where both eastbound and westbound are impeded.”

Although some people have a great way of making light of the situation, like local band the Elk Range setting up a mini concert while being stranded on Interstate 70 in the canyon for almost two hours, others might not have the luxury of being able to wait it out for anywhere between a half hour to sometimes as long as 14 hours. 

“It was pretty exciting,” Ken Gentry, a band member, said. “To be stuck in the canyon, which is one of the most beautiful places on the earth, and Betty (the harmonica player) just had the idea of why don’t we just get out and play a couple songs? How many bands have been able to play in the middle of Glenwood Canyon?”

Godes said the Calaway-Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital has many patients and employees who need access through the canyon for work and treatment. 

Semi truck collision that resulted in a 12 hour closure in the Glenwood Canyon on Jan. 30.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

There are many ideas being thrown around for preventative and alternative answers, but as of now, the Colorado Department of Transportation is taking the situation very seriously in looking for solutions as soon as possible. 

“CDOT is working with national, state and local agency partners to determine if there are common causes of commercial motor vehicle crashes on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon and what solutions we can pursue,” Elise Thatcher the Region 3 Communications director for CDOT wrote in an email.

Some of the problems with the canyon include the fact that there is no room for a frontage road and the cost for that infrastructure would be astronomical. Summertime alternative Cottonwood Pass is closed due to snow during the winter and would also cost a large sum for maintenance. Finally, variable speed limits don’t seem to affect driving behavior in the canyon. 

The mayor mentioned wanting to possibly look into using Cottonwood Pass during the winter, but the county road is partially owned by both Garfield and Eagles Counties, and it would have to be decided whose budget would pay for maintenance throughout the winter.

“This is a complex issue with several potential factors, including speed, driver awareness about I-70 Glenwood Canyon, enforcement limitations and more,” Thatcher wrote. “We appreciate that agency partners also see the need to learn more about the cause(s) and what can be done to prevent them.”

Currently, CDOT is working on organizing collision data to look deeper into the problem and to distinguish vehicle relevance and causes.

Recent data received from CDOT over the past two years, starting Jan. 30 2021 shows that the canyon has had nearly 200 full or partial closures through the canyon: 144 lane closures solely due to collisions, and 53 full closures. 

Some of the data CDOT is looking into is how often those closures are due to semi-truck collisions. 

So far, CDOT counted 70 of the 197 closures in Glenwood Canyon being caused by semi-truck collisions in the past two years. The final number is likely higher than that, but that was the number CDOT was able to confirm this week. 

“Our team is continuing to review the detailed data for which crashes involved a commercial motor vehicle,” Thatcher wrote. “So far, we have calculated at least 70 of the closures (full or a lane) involved a commercial motor vehicle.”

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