Polis issues disaster declarations for I-70 flooding, mudslides in Glenwood Canyon

Glenwood Canyon Aug. 1 2021
Posted at 3:59 PM, Aug 06, 2021

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis officially issued two disaster declarations in response to the mudslides through Glenwood Canyon that have forced a long-term shutdown of I-70.

One disaster declaration activates the State’s Emergency Operations Plan, which enables state agencies to better coordinate their response, and provides additional funds to respond to the damage and repairs needed in the impacted areas. It also allows the use of the Colorado National Guard for traffic control and debris removal. The second Executive Order enables the state to seek federal funding assistance.

The interstate had been closed through Glenwood Canyon 12 times between June 26 and July 28 due to flooding and mudslides in the Grizzly Creek burn scar area, but on July 29, flash flooding led to multiple large mudslides that caused “extensive damage” and trapped over 100 people on the highway overnight. Parts of the road were covered in 10 feet of debris, according to CDOT officials.

On Sunday, CDOT officials said the damage to the viaduct was unlike anything they had seen before, and CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said on Monday the Colorado River had also diverted because of the debris and was causing damage to the structure of the interstate and viaduct in several areas.

About 4 inches of rain fell on the area over the course of five days when typically Glenwood Canyon receives an average of 2.4 inches of rain in July, officials said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation also formed the Glenwood Canyon Incident Command team to manage operations for the incident due to the extreme nature of the event, something the department also did for the 2013 floods. The IC team helps to focus the department so it can recover from the incident as quickly as possible.

Polis said Monday a request for federal Stafford Act disaster money from President Joe Biden was also in the process of being made in order to help free up more money and resources.

It could still take weeks for the interstate to reopen.

Motorists are recommended to use the alternative northern route, which is a two-hour-long detour. Westbound traffic can exit at Silverthorne and travel north on Colorado 9 to U.S. 40, then west to Craig. From Craig, take Colorado 13 south to Rifle and back on I-70. Eastbound traffic will need to exit at Rifle and take the same route in the other direction.

Truckers are recommended to avoid I-70 all together and take Interstate 80 through Wyoming.