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One of the busiest traffic crushes of the year could produce even more headaches than usual over the Fourth of July weekend because of the potential for mudslides to close Glenwood Canyon, CDOT is warning.
When the iconic Hanging Lake trail reopened in May following last year’s Grizzly Creek fire, CDOT officials said there would be ongoing concern that rainstorms with flash flood potential could produce mudslides and rockfall in the burn scar area. And because it was bound to happen — a matter of when, not if — they formulated plans to keep travelers safe through the summer that included monitoring weather forecasts and responding proactively.
“In the event that there’s a flash flood watch for the Grizzly Creek burn scar, we will have employees on standby,” CDOT spokeswoman Elise Thatcher said. “We will have equipment ready and we will be monitoring the highway. The rec path and the rest areas will be closed. If the forecast switches to a flash flood warning, we will evacuate the canyon completely, along with local law enforcement.”
That’s exactly what happened over the past week. A flash flood watch issued Saturday afternoon was followed by a mudslide that closed the canyon. A flash flood warning on Sunday was closely followed by a second mudslide. The canyon reopened Monday evening but was closed briefly again on Tuesday due to a flash flood warning. More of the same is possible Thursday and Friday because of rain in the forecast.
Fourth of July traffic typically ranks high on the annual lists of busiest traffic weekends, as measured by vehicles traveling through the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels on Interstate 70. On the all-time list of busiest three-day weekends, Fourth of July weekend in 2018 ranks fourth (159,365), behind a January ski weekend in 2019 (160,758), Presidents Day weekend in 2018 (161,266) and a June weekend in 2019 (161,793).
What drove traffic that June weekend in 2019, you ask? Country Jam in Grand Junction. ”Lots and lots of traffic from the Front Range to Junction,” said CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson. “It’s very popular.”
Last year, Fourth of July weekend traffic at the tunnels (eastbound and westbound) from July 2-6 was 223,319 vehicles, when some counties had Safer at Home rules in effect due to the pandemic. That was down 9% from 2019.
Here are a few clues on how to avoid peak traffic headaches on the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, as derived from hourly vehicle counts at the tunnels over the Fourth of July weekend last year. Just keep in mind that last year, the Fourth was on Saturday, so many people took their work holiday on Friday. This year, with the Fourth occurring on Sunday, many people are getting their work holiday on Monday.
Last year, the heaviest westbound traffic counts (2,000 vehicles per hour or more) of the weekend occurred on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.; on Friday from 11 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. The highest one-hour westbound count of the weekend (2,257) occurred on Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The heaviest eastbound traffic counts last year occurred on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and then from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There also was one hour on Monday when eastbound traffic exceeded 2,000 vehicles, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. The highest one-hour eastbound count of the weekend (2,885) occurred on Sunday from noon to 1 p.m.