Road and bridge officials are researching making Cottonwood Pass a year-round road, after last week’s emergency closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon evidenced the importance of having an alternative wintertime link between the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. Along with linking those valleys, Cottonwood could provide a manageable detour route around the canyon when it’s shut down.
“It’s just something we’re looking into,” Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney said Monday in a joint meeting with the Pitkin County commissioners.
Stavney and the Eagle commissioners held a work session with their road and bridge staff Tuesday to discuss making Cottonwood passable during the November-to-April period when the rugged dirt road, like Independence Pass, is traditionally closed. For the four days after the interstate was suddenly cut off last Monday due to a massive early morning rock slide, truckers and travelers were sent on a 200-mile detour to bypass the disaster area. And commuters who live in the Eagle Valley but work in the Roaring Fork Valley, and vice versa, were marooned.
Some citizens called on Eagle officials last week to open the county road that goes over Cottonwood Pass, and directly links Gypsum to El Jebel, but they refused, citing safety reasons and the fact that the unpaved and unplowed road could not possibly handle the 25,000 cars and trucks that go through Glenwood Canyon daily.
But now they want to know if it might be feasible to make it passable and what that would cost.
“We’re not at a point to put a cost on it,” said Eagle County road and bridge director Brad Higgins, although he indicated it would be a very expensive project. “For now we are just looking into what type of road [the commissioners] would want. If you wanted it to carry I-70 traffic it would need four lanes.”
That would mean doing an extensive environmental analysis of the impact of expanding the backcountry road, then widening it, realigning it, grading it and putting in guardrails, Higgins said.
Though going through with all of that appears to be a long shot, Higgins put in a call to discuss it yesterday with his counterpart in Garfield County, through which half of the backcountry road passes. Making Cottonwood Pass an alternate or detour route to Glenwood Canyon would also require cooperation from the towns of Glenwood Springs and Gypsum, since traffic would be diverted through them.
Higgins said they’d certainly also need funding and assistance from the state and federal governments. A Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson said Tuesday they have not yet been involved in any discussions about improving the road.
“This is a conversation we’re going to have and there are no easy answers,” Higgins said. “The only time this becomes an issue is when that canyon closes.”