CDOT waits to reopen interstate

State highway crews will call in aerial support today in a continuing effort to reopen Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon after heavy rockfall early Monday morning.

The Colorado Department of Transportation hopes to reopen the vital east-west thoroughfare to one-lane traffic in each direction. However, CDOT first wants to dislodge a rock 20 feet in diameter that is 900 feet up the hillside and could pose a danger to motorists if not brought down before opening the highway.

Crews plan to use a helicopter today to help them in their effort, said transportation department spokeswoman Stacey Stegman.

Workers had hoped to dislodge the rock Tuesday. But Stegman said they only got to spend about an hour working on the rock. First the team of six had to climb two hours to the site and use prybars and other tools to remove loose rocks above the big rock and make it safe to approach it.

“It was just really hard for them to get to it because of the terrain,” Stegman said.

The “scaling” of loose rock had to be halted every time trains passed on the opposite side of the canyon, to avoid possibly bringing rocks down onto the tracks.

Once workers reached the big rock, they couldn’t find good spots to pack explosives into it.

“So (today) they’re going to hike up there and they’re going to fly in some drilling equipment with a helicopter and drill holes in it and try to split it that way,” Stegman said.

Workers will place explosives in the holes. They hope the rock will break into pieces, so it doesn’t cause much more roadway damage that could further delay a reopening. Another factor could be what lane is struck by the rock or its pieces. Officials hope to run two-way traffic on what are normally I-70’s eastbound lanes, while repairs are made to the westbound lanes. Under emergency contracting procedures, plans for repairs go out for bid today, and contractors have until 2 p.m. Friday to respond, Stegman said.

Stegman had hoped the canyon might have been reopened Tuesday, and now is hoping the same thing for today. But it all depends on bringing the boulder down, and what subsequent cleanup and repairs are required.

“When you’re dealing with geology it’s not an exact science. It’s hard to really predict how things are going to go,” she said.

What is certain for the geologist who inspected the rock is that it is unsafe to leave it in place on the hillside, ready to fall.

“He’s fairly confident it will come down on its own. He just can’t say when. Knowing that, we can’t let traffic go under it yet,” Stegman said.

Some 20 rocks fell onto the highway west of Hanging Lake Tunnel Monday morning, including one weighing about 66 tons. Damage included several holes in the roadway, part of which is elevated aboveground. One hole measured 10 by 20 feet.

Many motorists are taking a detour of about 200 miles on U.S. Highway 40 through Steamboat Springs. Glenwood Canyon’s average daily traffic count is about 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles, Stegman said.


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