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Work on Vail Pass, Glenwood Canyon in CDOT update

Officials working to keep up with project requests

Vehicles line up at the Blue Hill/The Narrows section of Cottonwood Pass in the summer of 2021. Eagle County, Garfield County and state officials are working on ways to make the road safer. But the road still won't be an alternative to Interstate 70.
Pam Boyd/Vaily Daily

State roads and highways on the Western Slope need a lot of work.

The Eagle County Commissioners on Monday, Sept. 19, heard an update on that work from representatives of the Colorado Department of Transportation. The state has five transportation districts. Eagle County is in Region 3, which encompasses most of the Western Slope and has more than 5,000 lane-miles of state highways, with roadways running from high alpine to desert environments.

The group meeting was led by Regional Transportation District Director Jason Smith, who told the commissioners “there are a lot of good things going on” in the area.



Some of the good news comes from Glenwood Canyon. After 2021 debris flows closed Interstate 70 for more than two weeks, Smith told the commissioners there haven’t been any debris flows.

That seems in line with a general five-year window of mudslide and debris danger following large wildfires, Smith said. “We’re hoping for less and less” as time passes, he added.



As the danger of canyon closures seems to be easing, Smith said transportation officials are looking at ways to modify current tactics that close the canyon during flash flood warnings.

When the canyon closes, many motorists travel between Gypsum and Glenwood Springs over Cottonwood Pass.

Commissioner Matt Scherr noted that state help with that road between Eagle and Garfield counties is for safety reasons, not to make the road an alternative to the interstate.

By the numbers

$36.5 million: Spending so far on repairs and improvements to Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon after the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire and 2021 debris flows.
14: Locations identified for safety improvements on Cottonwood Pass.
$200 million: Funded improvements on west Vail Pass.
$8.4 million: Estimated cost of a possible U.S. Highway 24 resurfacing project north of Leadville.

At the east end of the Eagle River Valley, the state is working on Vail Pass work, ranging from re-routing a portion of the recreation path to replacing bridges, smoothing curves and adding a third lane to both east and westbound lanes.

The project includes reconstructing the Vail Pass rest area. Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney asked if the state could install an electric vehicle charging station at that new facility.

Transportation Commission Chairwoman Kathy Hall noted that federal law prohibits allowing vendors as part of the U.S. Highway system. Even putting a county-funded charger at the site would require federal approval, Hall said.

While big projects get most of the attention, Region 3 Transportation Planner Mark Rogers said projects with local governments have tripled in recent years. Rogers acknowledged that transportation officials are catching up on those project requests and contracts. Those projects in Eagle County include one on U.S. Highway 6 through EagleVail and Avon to add better roadway lighting and other safety improvements.

Vail Public Works Director Greg Hall was at the Monday meeting, and mentioned that much of the lighting is out at Vail’s East Vail and West Vail I-70 interchanges. Current regulations make municipalities responsible for those lights. But, Hall said, town crews aren’t trained to work along interstate highways.  

As the state’s population grows, transportation officials are looking at other ways of moving people and goods.

Kathy Hall noted that state officials are trying to encourage people and shippers to fly into airports at either Eagle County or Grand Junction.

So far, though, those efforts haven’t been very effective, she noted.


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