Trucking industry carriers have been trying to get out of a hole since monsoon rains hit western Colorado this summer.
The storms hit normally dry months of the year, resulting in major mudslides that repeatedly blocked an about 20 mile stretch of Interstate 70 in the Glenwood Canyon area, about 160 miles to West Denver. It’s part of a vital corridor for long-haul freight and agricultural products, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
Erica Denney, sales manager for Denver-based Denney Transport, called the situation “unprecedented” for Colorado carriers. She told FreightWaves that it had been particularly difficult for companies like hers that operate refrigerated trailer fleets.
“We have deadlines, we have a short shelf life. We have to keep things warm, ”Denney explained. “It’s the extra struggle we had to face against a dry charge that might be late, but it’s not going to be bad.”
Denney Transport mainly transports perishable food. Erica has worked for the company, owned by her father, for six years. She’s been in trucking her whole life.
Approximately 75% of Denney Transport’s transportation is on I-70 from Denver to Southern California. Unfortunately, there was no way around the closures without taking a hit.
The CDOT had to close the highway seven times between late June and mid-August due to mudslides and debris flows. The longest shutdown lasted just over two weeks.
“We were in constant communication with our shippers saying, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on, here’s what’s going on.’ Those who are great partners with us ended up paying us a bit more for a while, ”Denney said.
Denney added that the company did its best to divide the difference where possible.
Drivers were redirected to Interstate 80 or 40 to keep them moving, but time was wasted delivering products and getting drivers to their next loads. Other alternative routes in the area, which are mostly county roads, would take even longer. Efficiency was “out the window,” as Denney described it.
But the company didn’t want drivers to stay on the road too long, exhausting themselves to make up for lost time, despite government waivers on electronic recording devices and hours of service regulations.
Denney’s management tried to accommodate frustrated drivers by moving them to eastbound routes to avoid Glenwood Canyon closures. But these transports are a much smaller part of the business, so some of these drivers end up quitting.
Denney said she couldn’t yet quantify how much money the company has lost due to the amount of factors involved – extra miles and fuel, wasted time, extra truck maintenance, and the loss of a few drivers. But it has certainly been a bumpy race.
“We took a hit. At the end of the day we took a huge hit, and it was incredibly frustrating for a period of time where it was constant, ”said Denney.
Rain, which hit from late June to early July and late July to early August, reached nearly 10 inches in parts of Glenwood Canyon. It washed away miles and miles of land, including into the mountain above where the Grizzly Creek fire burned last year. Virtually everything that held the mountain collapsed, resulting in mudslides mixed with debris from the burn scar from the fire.
Elise Thatcher, CDOT’s communications manager, told FreightWaves that CDOT had rockfall prevention measures that had been in place for several years at Glenwood Canyon and predicted debris flows due to the burn scar. To prepare, the CDOT immediately installed additional anti-stone fences in the fall of 2020.
“It is important to note that the material flows that took place this summer… were magnified by the high amount of precipitation over a short period of time in one location. There was at least one place where the rain fell nearby, but not on the burn scar, and there was a heavy flow of rocks, ”Thatcher said. “This means that the weather, and not just the burn scar, is an important factor for potential material flows in the future.”
After the Grizzly Creek fire, CDOT also placed chipped wood straw mulch on 29 acres of burnt soil next to I-70 and in the CDOT right-of-way, which is a narrow footprint along the bottom. of the canyon.
The US Forest Service oversees Glenwood Canyon’s long-term stabilization options. Thatcher said flooding in other parts of the state where CDOT roads were affected showed improved stabilization after four to five years.
CDOT continues periodic lane closures because there is more debris to clean up and more road damage to repair. The next closing is from 10:00 p.m. CST Thursday until 6:00 a.m. Friday, weather permitting. Eastbound lanes of I-70 will be closed between exits 116 and 133. Westbound lanes will remain open. The CDOT is also conducting preventative shutdowns when the National Weather Service issues a flash flood warning for the area.
Denney is pleased with the progress of the CDOT and appreciates the excellent communication between the Colorado Motor Carriers Association and its members, as well as between the CDOT and the CMCA.
“We’re happy that hopefully the worst is behind us,” Denney said.
Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.
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