Crews begin clearing debris from Glenwood Canyon rock fall, but I-70 still closed
Glenwood Springs Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Crews have begun removing debris from a rock fall that has Interstate 70 closed in both directions at the Hanging Lake Tunnel in the Glenwood Canyon. The interstate is closed between Glenwood Springs and Dotsero.
Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) engineers said that clean up would continue over the next two to three days, and that they hope to have an emergency contractor by the end of the week to begin repairs.
CDOT program engineer Joe Elsen would not say when traffic would again be allowed through the canyon. However, Elsen estimated that repairs will take between two and three months to complete.
“Without knowing anything else now, this is probably a two month repair,” Elsen said.
The rock fall occurred around midnight Sunday. No vehicles were involved in the fall and no one was injured, according to the Colorado State Patrol.
Boulders, the largest being 10 feet by 20 feet, knocked two large holes in the westbound lanes. The eastbound lanes received less damage. Both westbound and eastbound lanes were blocked by boulders Monday, some of them the size of a tractor-trailer. The largest boulder was estimated to weigh approximately 66 tons. The larger boulders will have to be blown apart with explosives before they can be removed, according to CDOT spokeswoman Stacy Stegman.
Elsen compared this incident to the 2004 Thanksgiving Day rock fall.
“It’s relatively the same,” Elsen said. “I don’t think it’s worse.”
At least one of the five steel support girders were damaged by one of the falling boulders and will need to be repaired, along with more than half-a-dozen holes in the concrete deck, Elsen said. The slide also damaged three sections, about 120 feet, of steel guard rail, about 100 feet of concrete median barrier, and destroyed two sections of precast retaining walls on the westbound lanes. But, Elsen was surprised that the damage was not worse.
“I’ll tell you, it’s a pretty tough bridge when you consider what happened to it,” he said.
Repairs from the 2004 rock slide took about 60 days to complete, Elsen said, and cost around $1.6 million. Elsen estimated repair cost to run between $1 million and $2 million this time around.
CDOT geologists assessed the fall area Monday morning to check for loose rocks and to determine the potential for other slides, Elsen said. Rock scaling will likely be done to knock down sections of loose rocks that exist. However, Elsen was uncertain as to how quickly that work could occur.
“There is still more rock up there that is most likely going to be scaled,” he said.
CDOT has spotters watching for falling rocks as crews work to remove the debris, Monday.
Engineers anticipate that the eastbound lanes will be able to accommodate traffic during the repair period, however would not estimate how soon lanes would be re-opened.
The slide on Thanksgiving Day in 2004 happened in the same general area and closed the highway. Luckily, no one was injured in that slide as well, due to a previous closure for an unrelated crash. Prior to that, a 1995 rock slide on I-70 killed three people.
CDOT has recommended the following detour routes: To bypass the closed stretch from the east: Exit I-70 at U.S. 40/Empire to State Highway 13 and back to I-70; or exit in Silverthorne and take State Highway 9 to U.S. 40 and State Highway 13; or exit at Wolcott/State Highway 131 to U.S. 40 and State Highway 13.
To bypass the closed section from the west: Exit at Rifle/State Highway 13 to U.S. 40 and back to I-70.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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