Our View: Rockfall issues merit action
April 2, 2011
■ March 28, 2011: Another rockslide near Mount Harris raises questions about US 40 safety
Steamboat Springs — The most active period of rockslides in memory along a stretch of U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Hayden calls for swift, decisive action from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Three significant rockfall events in March — coming one year after the March 2010 death of Craig resident Karen Evanoff from a falling rock in the same area — have resulted in highway shutdowns and car wrecks. It's fortunate that the three latest incidents didn't result in another fatality.
CDOT crews have been performing rock-scaling work in the area for the past several weeks, and officials with the state's transportation department have vowed more work in the wake of the series of recent rockslides. That may not be enough.
We understand that rockslides cannot entirely be prevented; they're a risk we take when building and traveling along highways through mountainous terrain. We also know it's not reasonable to expect government to eliminate the dangers posed by Mother Nature. But motorists should expect that all reasonable efforts are made to improve stretches of highway known to pose an immediate and serious risk to their safety. Such is the case with the several-mile stretch of U.S. 40 that winds through Mount Harris Canyon.
CDOT, like all state agencies, is faced with a shrinking budget and no shortage of project demands across the state. Its rockfall mitigation program was allocated $3 million to $4 million this year, and the project list doesn't include Mount Harris Canyon.
Fortunately, it appears as though CDOT officials understand the need to make something happen on U.S. 40 in Routt County this year. CDOT Region 3 Director Dave Eller is optimistic that funds can be secured for longer-term rockslide prevention solutions such as fencing or netting. He and others, including Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, who is chairwoman of the Northwest Transportation Planning Region, are eyeing Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery monies as the potential solution
The project could cost as much as $1 million, and it's likely the funding wouldn't be available until midsummer. That's well past the active rockslide season of early spring, when the freeze-thaw weather cycle can jolt rocks from their usual resting places and send them tumbling into the path of unsuspecting motorists. But the timing is better than the alternative presented as recently as a week ago, when the message from CDOT seemed to be that no funding meant no project.
We expect our local representatives, including state Sen. Jean White, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, Mitsch Bush and others, to continue to push CDOT to secure funding for U.S. 40 work in the Mount Harris Canyon. The real tragedy would be for next spring's freeze-thaw cycle to arrive without any substantial safety measures taken along one of the busiest commuter thoroughfares in Northwest Colorado.