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Autumn travel may present challenges

Locations: News Published

Traveling in the mountains has always presented challenges, and this autumn season will be no different on Colorado’s Western Slope. 

The best a traveler can do is plan ahead in the hope of avoiding delays, closures, cancellations, and natural disasters. With that in mind, here’s a “heads-up” for traveling in our immediate region over the next few months. Where specific dates are given, be advised that, in some cases, they represent the “best guess,” or the scheduled time of completion as of the date of this publication. The experienced traveler will always confirm times, cancelations and other conditions that may affect his/her travel plans, and Sopris Sun readers are advised to do the same.

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Experienced air travelers are aware that their flight travel plans are subject to availability of seats, bad weather, and other factors.  However, in the case of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (a.k.a. Sardy Field) in Aspen, we must now include the closure of the airport on Sept. 14 through 18 as a reason for not flying. Chris Padilla, Air Traffic Controller at Aspen’s airport, said the “closure is necessary in order to complete required runway maintenance.” This is no small matter. In 2019, the airport handled an average of 114 flight operations every day.

Here’s a surprise that surfaced recently: AMTRAK’s passenger rail service schedule for the California Zephyr reveals some serious changes. Marc Magliari, AMTRAK’s Media Relations Representative for our region, confirmed that schedule changes would take place beginning the week of Oct. 5. 

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At that time, westbound AMTRAK passenger trains will only come through Glenwood Springs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Eastbound passenger trains will stop in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Also, there may be delays due to work being performed in the Moffat Tunnel. According to AMTRAK’s web-based Fact Sheet for Fiscal Year 2018, 44,430 travelers either boarded or got off the train in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

As residents of the Roaring Fork Valley know, the sight of a Colorado Mountain Express van on Highway 82 was once common. The shuttles transported travelers directly from Denver International Airport to Aspen and other destinations in Colorado’s mountain region – often for ski vacations. 

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Well, the company has a new name: Epic Mountain Express, and their shuttle services have been suspended for some time. In response to my questions about Epic’s future operations, an online reservation representative for the company told me that “they expect to resume operations in mid-November.”

That brings us to bus transportation. Not counting privately-owned buses, the Roaring Fork Valley’s intercity bus transportation is provided by Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA), the Bustang, and Greyhound. All have websites that include routes, costs and schedules. Sopris Sun readers are undoubtedly familiar with RFTA bus services: These buses have contributed much to keeping our local economy rolling. 

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Bustang, which is operated by The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), also provides valuable transportation services that include cities and towns along both the Interstate 25 and Interstate 70 mountain corridors. There are 19 Bustang coaches. Although each bus can accommodate 51 passengers, only 22 are allowed at this time due to COVID-19 concerns. Bustang features include restrooms, free Wi-Fi, 110-volt outlets, USB sockets, and bike racks. In addition, the Bustangs are wheelchair accessible. Go to ridebustang.com for more information. The Greyhound bus line still serves Glenwood Springs, picking up and dropping off passengers at a RFTA bus stop bench near the mall in West Glenwood Springs. 

Finally, there is the option of traveling in your own vehicle. In recent weeks, residents of the Roaring Fork Valley have learned that driving on Western Colorado’s back roads and highways cannot be taken for granted: fires burn, rocks fall, and passes close. 

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Elise Thatcher, the Region 3 Communications Manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, confirmed that two-way (head-to-head) traffic exists on the lower deck of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon. The upper deck remains closed for resurfacing and minor repairs. She said that “no major damage” had occurred to I-70 as a result of rockfall. She added that drivers on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon should understand that there is no stopping allowed while driving through the canyon, and that the rest areas (and Hanging Lake) are closed. 

Thatcher also reported that there might be “safety closures” in Glenwood Canyon if moderate or heavy rain is likely, and that such closures might occur “at a moment’s notice.” She recommends allowing an extra 20 minutes for your trip through Glenwood Canyon on holiday weekends, and to have alternate routes in mind in the event that I-70 closures occur. 

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Given all of the above, unless you absolutely must travel in the next month or two, it would be well worth your time to plan ahead, examine the various options, and double-check your reservations, current weather, and road conditions … and maybe cross your fingers.

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