Businesses cope, and in some cases turn a profit, from interstate closure

When rockfall started out the workweek by closing Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon Monday morning, it cut off about one-fifth of the American Gypsum workforce from the company’s plant.

The wallboard maker, located in Gypsum east of the canyon, runs on 12-hour shifts.

Plant manager Ray Barnes said that pretty much ruled out people adding hours to their commute to drive a detour route. Instead, some of the plant’s 87 hourly workers have stayed with friends or co-workers in the Gypsum area, or in hotels.

“We’re running pretty thin, and people are working some pretty long hours. They’re holding up so far,” Barnes said.

American Gypsum is one of many businesses being affected by the closure, and not in all cases for the worse.

“It’s helped business. It’s been kind of crazy,” said Dawn Robison, a ticket agent at the Amtrak station in Glenwood Springs.

She said she had maybe 20 more customers Tuesday because of the closure.

Amtrak heads to Denver using railroad tracks on the opposite side of Glenwood Canyon from I-70, and the rockfall didn’t close them. Coincidentally, an unrelated snowslide in the canyon delayed an Amtrak train for more than three hours Monday evening.

“We just never know what’s going to happen out there,” Robison said.

The Colorado Mountain Express shuttle service is offering a special service from the Aspen area to the Amtrak station, and another to the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Gray Line is offering what it calls “Rockslide Shuttles” between Aspen and Denver, and Aspen and the Eagle County Regional Airport.

Robin Bauer, a front desk worker at Affordable Inn in Glenwood Springs, said a few people have stayed there longer rather than make the long detour drive toward Denver, but others planning to come from Denver have canceled their reservations because of the closure, and more cancellations are expected.

“It’s definitely hurting us,” Bauer said.

She said the problem will get much worse if the canyon remains closed come Friday, when people on spring break in Denver are scheduled to start visiting.

That prospect has Tom Jankovsky, general manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs, nervous as well. He said spring break week is the ski area’s busiest week in March, and it could lose a quarter-million dollars if the highway remains closed.

“We do have lots of groups coming in, so we’re very concerned,” he said. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that they can get this thing taken care of.”

Bauer and other business representatives credited the Colorado Department of Transportation for its efforts to reopen the canyon.

“I’m sure they’re doing the best they can,” she said.

“All we can do is hope for the best. It’s Mother Nature,” said Delia Martinez, manager at Tomahawk Truck Stop in Glenwood Springs, which has seen its traffic decline since the closure.

Her business also serves as the local Greyhound station, and she is advising customers wanting to make connections in Denver to start their trip a day early to accommodate the detour time.

Rockfall isn’t keeping the U.S. Postal Service from making its appointed rounds with the mail.

“There are no delays. We’re moving it as fast as we can,” spokesman Al DeSarro said.

He said the Postal Service has shifted transportation paths, such as by moving some distribution to Salt Lake City, to deal with the I-70 closure.

As for grocery shipments, City Market spokesman Trail Daugherty said they have been affected in some cases by a few hours, depending on the store.

“But we’re currently current on all our deliveries, and since the stores do get deliveries frequently during the week, we don’t anticipate any kind of ‘outs’ for customers to deal with,” he said.

“It’s an unfortunate incident, and in the winter months we deal with the storms, certainly, so we have very good alternative routes to get into where we want to.”

He said City Market’s truck drivers are third-party vendors rather than employees.

“Certainly I would imagine they’re racking up some overtime” driving detour routes, Daugherty said.


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