Colorado Department of Transportation worker Jason Simpson knocks off a large loose rock above U.S. Highway 40 between Hayden and Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Colorado Department of Transportation worker Jason Simpson knocks off a large loose rock above U.S. Highway 40 between Hayden and Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.

CDOT seeks rock fix along US Highway 40 between Steamboat and Hayden

Crews are working to mitigate danger worsened by springtime temperature changes



Colorado Department of Transportation worker Jason Simpson loosens a rock threatening U.S. Highway 40 between Hayden and Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.


A Colorado Department of Transportation superintendent talks to workers about the rock scaling work Wednesday on U.S. Highway 40.

— Sometimes, all it took was a touch from Jason Simpson’s crowbar, and large boulders would come loose and crash below him on U.S. Highway 40. Other times, it took a little more convincing.

“The ones that look easy are the ones that are tough,” said Simpson, who hung from a rope Wednesday on the cliff face that hugs U.S. 40 at mile marker 115.

Simpson is part of the Colorado Department of Transportation crew that has been trying to mitigate the rock danger along the cliffs between Steamboat Springs and Hayden by prying off dangerous rocks that have come loose because of frequent freezing and thawing this time of year. It has been an especially challenging task this year, and the crew has been struggling to keep up.

“This year, there has been substantially more (rockfalls) than normal because of the snowfall we got,” said Billy McDermott, a CDOT employee supervising Wednesday’s rock removal. “This has been plaguing us off and on since the middle of February, and it’s progressively getting worse. I drive this every day, and if you don’t think for a minute that I don’t look up …”

Higher-ups at CDOT also have taken notice of the rock problems and are searching for solutions.

“There have been too many incidents, especially this year,” CDOT Region 3 Director Dave Eller said.

A contractor likely will be hired to help with removing the loose rocks next week near mile marker 115. A long-term solution also is in the works for the area that CDOT ranks at No. 41 in terms of potential danger out of 750 sites across the state, Eller said.

CDOT has a loader staged near the rockfall area and has been removing rocks from the road regularly. During the past week, there have been two documented cases of cars coming in contact with falling rocks. On March 11, a rock about 3 inches thick, 6 inches wide and 10 inches long fell from the cliff, hit the hood of a car and went through the passenger-side windshield. A Hayden woman was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. On Thursday, a larger, flat rock about 5 feet by 8 feet fell from the side of the cliff, landed on the shoulder and broke into several pieces. A truck drove onto a piece and got stuck. There was little to no damage, but it was a close call regardless, Eller said.

“It could have been bad,” he said.

Like many road improvement projects, it comes down to money, which CDOT sets aside $5 million of each year to address rock mitigation.

“It wasn’t slated for funding, but we’re looking,” Eller said.

Engineers visited the site late in the week and are looking at options for installing fencing or netting at strategic locations.

“If nothing else, we’re hoping to get a couple hundred thousand dollars for this location,” Eller said. “I’m not sure we can 100 percent guard against rockfall, but we need to get ahead of it a little.”

Installation of netting or fencing would not happen until summer at the earliest, so CDOT is advising drivers to look out for rocks on the road, be careful and slow down, as the signage suggests.

“Hopefully, that helps a little bit,” Eller said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email


Richard Hagins 6 years ago

Why does this headline state "CDOT seeks rock fix along US Highway 40 in Steamboat", when the area is 5 miles from Hayden and 18 miles from Steamboat Springs? Highway 40 from the YVRA to Steamboat Springs is not Steamboat.


Queenie 6 years ago

my thought EXACTLY Festus.... you beat me to it....Not even close to being Steamboat....gimme a break


addlip2U 6 years ago

“There have been too many incidents, especially this year,” CDOT Region 3 Director Dave Eller said." "Like many road improvement projects, it comes down to money...."

How long do we have to keep the drivers and passengers passing by in danger and risk of loosing their cars, limbs, lives? How many lives do we have to loose before CDOT takes this seriously? Is there a "quota"?


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

The view from Simpson's position is not for pansies, glad to see the effort and hopefully control of this area is coming.


Steve Lewis 6 years ago

I'm with Fred. The work is appreciated.

Given the vicinity of the river to this work, I would be tempted to add a water cannon or firehose to the tools applied. Many examples of freeze-thaw require moist or saturated soil holding water in place for the next freeze cycle. Seems like they could trim the steeper soil faces directly above cliffs or slickrock, and bring down a lot of potential rockfall debris at the same time.


westrouttrez 6 years ago

I double agree with Festus and Queenie!!! What is it going to take for the Pilot to realize there is more to Routt County than Steamboat? There are other towns here that are every bit as important, if not more, than Steamboat!!! If it happens in Hayden, Oak Creek, Yampa... etc... print it that way for heaven's sake!!!

As for CDOT FINALLY addressing this issue, THANK YOU... one incident in too many!!! I have several family members who make that commute daily and have relayed years of horror stories and close calls. Hopefully in the very near future this issue will be resolved!


Nicole Miller 6 years ago

Festus, Queenie and westrouttrez: You're right. The headline is incorrect. It didn't run that way in the paper and was an error by copy editors when posting it online. I've updated it.

Nicole Miller news editor 970-871-4246


rexrox77 6 years ago

I suggest we all go to the Alps, Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland, and see how they have dealt with this problem for centuries. Never mind, I will tell you. They build really tough cement roofs over the roads in bad rockfall areas, certainly expensive, but cheaper in the long run, cheaper than chipping away at the rocks year after year. US 40 should either be moved to the other side of the Yampa in that area, or a good roof built over it, but us gringos will probably never expand our minds enough to include these good ideas, SO JUST KEEP LOOKING UP FOR ROCKS! I drive that canyon several times a week, I now wear a hard hat while driving there, since the Hayden woman was killed by a rock! HEY, who cares about the money!, life is worth more than gold, DON'T YOU AGREE?


rexrox77 6 years ago

Hey yampavalleyboy, I totally agree with you about Lincoln Ave.! People used to be able to make a right turn on red ON TO LINCOLN by passing the cars in front of you that are waiting to go straight or left, BUT NOW THANKS TO THE IDIOT ARCHITECT AND PLANNERS THE EXTENDED CURB IS IN THE WAY!!!



Cooke 6 years ago

I am glad to see some action on 40. I once drove that road everyday and it certainly made me nervous in the spring. As for Lincoln, I drive a pickup and have not had to adjust my driving habits one bit with the new layout. I still make right turns on red, left turns on green, and love the new signals. I think it looks good and held up through winter plowing just fine, despite what the naysayers predicted.

Rerox -- try and imagine that I wrote this in all caps; it obviously will carry so much more force, truth, and credibility that way:)


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

rexrox, The railroad is below the highway and it would then need protection. cooke, Lincoln works fine now but the carrying capacity has been reduced, wait until things pick up.


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