Steamboat Springs 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 mstensland@SteamboatToday.com