Rockfall closes Interstate 70

Traffic in both directions disrupted for most of Wednesday

Workers examine the cliffside and road after a rockfall shuts down I-70 in both directions for hours east of the Cameo interchange at Exit 46 Wednesday. The Colorado Department of Transportation sent cliff scalers up the side of the canyon to see if other rocks were loose before clearing the boulders from the pavement and patching damage to the road. Boulders stretched across the eastbound lanes of traffic, above, while several more landed in the westbound lanes.

Brisk rains overnight into Wednesday loosened rocks above Interstate 70 in De Beque Canyon, causing a major rockfall east of Palisade on Wednesday morning that shut the critical highway in both directions for most of the day.

That meant a roughly 90-mile detour, or an extra hour and half of driving time, over Grand Mesa and through the town of Delta for interstate travelers much of the day.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, a massive boulder at least 8-feet-by-8-feet in size crashed onto the eastbound side of the highway around 8 a.m., near milepost 46 east of the old Cameo power plant. No vehicles were hit or damaged, but debris caused traffic to be fully blocked in both directions.

While CDOT tried to clear the roadway, and their rockfall contractor used prybars and airbags to scale loose rock above, motorists were forced to use Colorado Highway 65 over Grand Mesa as their alternate route.

CDOT re-opened the eastbound lanes after 2 p.m., and the entire interstate just after 3 p.m.

Seasonal rains often lead to an increasing possibility of rockfall in areas where major roads course through steep canyons.

The Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service reported that .17 inch of rain fell in the past 24 hours at a reporting site on Pine Ridge, about a mile northwest of Cameo. Almost all of that fell in a two-hour period Tuesday into Wednesday between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

De Beque Canyon has been the site of much scaling and rockfall mitigation by crews in past years.

CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said that rockfall incidents in De Beque Canyon prompted scaling and mitigation work numerous times over the past few years. In April 2012, at milepost 53, crews placed a number of monitors to detect movement or vibrations that could be precursors to a rockfall incident.

Other rockfall projects and incidents — all east of the incident area from Wednesday — happened in October 2009, March 2010, April 2010 and March 2011, Shanks said. A fatality occurred as the result of rockfall in 2006.

A CDOT geologist will submit a report to determine if additional work or expansion of the monitoring system is recommended for the more westward area of the canyon where Wednesday’s incident occurred, Shanks said.

CDOT was also called to the scene of another rockfall incident Wednesday morning, along Colorado Highway 82 east of Aspen, on the west side of Independence Pass. The road was closed just after 6 a.m. when some smaller rocks came down onto the highway. No vehicles were impacted, and the road was re-opened to limited traffic by 7 a.m.


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