CDOT to tackle rockfall issues in Mount Harris Canyon

Regional director: Work could begin in US 40 problem area in fall

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— The Colorado Department of Transportation will spend $600,000 to $700,000 in the next 10 months to stabilize dangerous rockfall areas along U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Hayden. Rockfalls in the Mount Harris Canyon section of U.S. 40 have caused one fatality and several accidents in the past two years.

CDOT Region 3 Director Dave Eller told the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that his office would advertise for bids in the next two to three months with the possibility that work could begin in fall. However, the work on one of the most dangerous sections of the highway could carry over to 2012.

“We have demand for rockfall hazard elimination all over the state. This project was low on the list, but we decided we’ve got to do something,” Eller told the commissioners. “We hope to do it this fall, but definitely it will be ready for a contractor to work in the spring.”

Peter Mertes, CDOT’s program engineer based in Grand Junction, said the work will involve anchoring vinyl-coated chain-link fencing materials to poles driven into the soil high on a steep hillside above the highway to contain falling rocks and prevent them from reaching the road.

“They’ll be contained behind the fencing and dribble down into the ditch,” Mertes said.

In addition, boulders that look like trouble will be scaled from the steep hill before they can come loose next spring.

Eller cautioned the commissioners that the work planned for the upcoming construction cycle would not treat all of the problem areas in the canyon where the Yampa River flows past the abandoned coal mining town of Mount Harris.

“There are several rockfall sections up there,” Eller said. “This one had the most activity.”

Commissioner Doug Monger told Eller that reducing hazards on that stretch of highway is important to people commuting to work in Steamboat Springs from western Routt County and Moffat County.

“As well as to visitors arriving from the airport,” Steamboat Public Works Director Philo Shelton added. “It’s our lifeblood.”

Mertes told the gathering of local officials that a more expensive project not far from Mount Harris also has been funded for 2012. His office will seek bids this fall for a U.S. 40 pavement overlay project involving about six miles of road east of Hayden. The estimated cost is $3.9 million.

CDOT discusses Elk River Bridge project

Colorado Department of Transportation officials will meet from 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday in the Routt County Commissioners Hearing Room with neighboring landowners and representatives of the Union Pacific Railroad to discuss water issues related to the design for a future replacement of the U.S. Highway 40 bridge over the Elk River. The bridge is near Saddle Mountain west of Steamboat Springs.

The replacement of the bridge, which has been deemed functionally obsolete because it is too narrow to allow for shoulders, was in the works before flooding in June where the Elk River reaches its confluence with the Yampa River.

CDOT engineers have said the flood event gave them new insights into how a 100-year flood interacts with highway and railroad bridges.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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