Rock slide punches holes in bridge, dots Colo. highway with boulders; gov declares emergency

By Samantha Abernethy, AP
Monday, March 8, 2010

Colo. rock slide rains boulders on bridge, highway

DENVER — A rock slide punched gaping holes in a bridge and left huge boulders on Interstate 70, closing a 17-mile stretch in western Colorado and prompting Gov. Bill Ritter to declare a disaster emergency Monday.

The slide struck around midnight Sunday near Hanging Lake Tunnel in Glenwood Canyon, a deep, narrow chasm about 110 miles west of Denver, the Colorado Department of Transportation said.

No injuries or damage to vehicles were reported. All lanes were closed from Glenwood Springs east to the town of Dotsero. Up to 25,000 vehicles a day travel that section of the major east-west artery, department spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said.

Because of the rugged terrain, the shortest detour adds about 200 miles around the mountainous Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Adding to the traffic mess, U.S. 50 was closed over Monarch Pass due to adverse conditions.

Stegman said the rock slide took out median barriers, steel guardrails and at least one lightpole.

“To me, it looks like a war zone,” she said. She said that from an engineering perspective, though, the damage was less than originally thought.

Ritter declared a disaster emergency for the highway, allowing the state to seek funding from the Federal Highway Administration to help pay for repairs.

Transportation officials planned to regroup Tuesday to plan rockfall mitigation for another loose boulder above the highway, Stegman said.

The largest hole in the roadway was 10 by 20 feet in the westbound lane. About 20 boulders ranging from three to 10 feet long were scattered on the highway, with the largest weighing 66 tons, officials said.

Crews were drilling holes in the large boulders to insert explosives and blast them into smaller pieces. She said once the crew clears the debris, they will be able to find out which lanes can be reopened.

Stegman said some lanes could reopen soon, but they don’t know how long it would take to finish roadway repairs and reopen all the lanes.

A 1995 rock slide on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon killed three people. A slide on Thanksgiving Day in 2004 closed the highway and required nearly $700,000 worth of repairs. No one was hurt because the highway had previously been closed for an unrelated crash.

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