How I-70’s Closure In Glenwood Canyon Will Be A Pain Point For Colorado’s Economy

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Courtesy of CDOT
The aftermath of debris flows around I-70 in Glenwood Canyon, Friday, July 23, 2021.

It could take weeks for Colorado Department of Transportation crews to clean debris and make repairs on Interstate 70 after a mudslide in Glenwood Canyon closed the road and trapped 100 people in their cars. In the meantime, the wheels of commerce have to maneuver around it.

Detours are adding hours to truck drivers' routes, leading to higher shipping costs and delivery delays.

Coloradans aren’t the only ones who will suffer during the indefinite closure of one of the nation’s primary east-west arteries, according to Greg Fulton, president and CEO of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, a trade group for the state’s trucking industry.

“It has a ripple effect, not only in Colorado … but in terms of adjacent states as well as the country,” Fulton said. “It’s such a vital corridor to us in so many ways. We take it for granted that it will always be there and always be open.”

According to CDOT, 4,900 trucks travel on 1-70 past Exit 205 for Silverthorne on an average day, the exit for vehicles taking the alternate northern route. 

Fulton’s organization is advising interstate truck drivers to avoid I-70 completely by taking Interstate 80 through Wyoming, or Interstate 40 through New Mexico.

“If you’re just coming through … keep the detour roads open for trucks that absolutely need to be in the state,” he said.

Transporting goods will be more costly

Deliveries coming directly from the Front Range can still access the Western Slope on state highways that add between two and five hours to the trip. That includes everything from fuel and building materials to everyday items to stock grocery shelves. 

The extra time may make it impossible to make a roundtrip delivery in one day, Fulton said. Truckers are limited to 11 hours of driving in a 13-hour span, he said, adding that “Having that longer route means you will run out of driving hours.” 

The country’s supply chain is already straining to meet consumer demand. Many people are eager to spend after being homebound for more than a year, while a shortage of workers – including truck drivers – is making it difficult to deliver goods and services in a timely fashion. At the same time, manufacturers are facing hiccups in overseas production that have persisted throughout the pandemic.

Josh Nirenberg is owner of restaurants Bin 707 and TacoParty in Grand Junction. He said his supply chain has been out of whack for several months.

“We’re still able to get some trucks but we don’t know what time of day they’re going to arrive. In some cases, we don’t know what days of the week they are going to arrive,” Nirenberg said.

His taco stand was out of tortillas when it was time to open yesterday, and he hasn’t had a shipment of tequila in two weeks.The closure of I-70 is making a bad situation worse, he said.

Greg Aishman works for Denver-based Transportation Services Incorporated, a logistics company whose clients include pet food brands. Aishman coordinates the trucking of ingredients from farms to a Greeley processing plant. With I-70 closed, truckers hauling chicken parts and frozen salmon from California are going 90 miles out of their way through Wyoming. The detour adds $300 dollars per load, he said. It’s a struggle to figure out how to absorb the extra cost.

“Whose fault is it that Glenwood Canyon has shut down? It’s not my customer’s fault,” Aishman said.

Depending on how long the closure lasts, those costs could eventually get passed on to pet owners, he said.

The biggest shipping companies in the country aren’t immune. In an email, a spokesperson for UPS said the company is closely monitoring the situation on I-70, and working hard to mitigate delays.

 “We’re all scrambling to find the best way to meet this but there is no silver bullet. I wish there was. It’s going to take a lot of coordination and help among different parties,” said Colorado Motor Carriers Association’s Fulton.