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

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

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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 mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

David Moore 3 years, 6 months ago

I'd like to hear what other posters feel is the solution to this deadly problem that thousands of our local citizens drive by 10 or more times a week( to and from work in the Boat). I drive this road weekly, sometimes less, and I cannot help but to look up instead of at the road, which I am fully aware is a dangerous method. What is the solution? What would be the most cost effective, safer method?

I know it would probably cost a billion dollars to do but here is my thought: Instead of the road curving and passing beneath the rock wall, why not do a straight out flyover at that curve over the railroad and the river onto the property on the other side of the cliff and connect with the road when it goes around the curve just after the little pullout, which is located on the right side going to Steamboat? Completely avoid the wall altogether and be able to keep the constant speed zone, which changes at the Mt. Harris pullout, only for the fact that the rock wall area is a dangerous zone to travel to fast within. Either offer a good payout to the property owners or forcefully take it over in the name of safety, ( I am never for the imminent domain theory unless it applies to safety). There are flyovers in every major city on the freeway systems within, so I know it can be done. Not to worried about aesthetics or environment, more worried about the next person, or myself, being killed by a falling mass of rock along a very neglected piece of roadway. In the long run, compared to constant scaling efforts and other considerations, which might fail( concrete roofs, fencing, catch fencing, etc...) I fully believe an alternate route, wherever it may lie, is the most cost effective and safest idea. Just my thought, anyone else have a better idea?

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Sasha 3 years, 5 months ago

My husband was directly involved with the rock fall today on 40. The police made him delete all of his pictures and wouldn't allow the paper to take a frontal shot of the accident. Luckily he sent me the pictures because something smells really fishy about this. The officer said it was CO State Law regarding the fact that he couldn't take pictures. The officer also said that we can't do anything with insurance for 20 days. We need a vehicle! Also, since it was an accident, the officer called a tow and charged us $300! My husband also had to take a taxi home! Don't you think the least the officer could've done was take him home? Anyway, I'm beginning some research, as something doesn't seem right about this. What do others think?

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wellwell 3 years, 5 months ago

Well, not allowing pictures is really something different and it would have been helpful for insurance. The insurance agent would want to be called right away and that would be between you and your agent.

The officer usually asks preferance on the tow company, but it is part of his duty if none has been called. Usually if none is preferred by the owner the office goes by closest or cycles to the different companies. He needs to clear the road as soon as he can. Of course the cost is yours for the tow. Sometimes the insurance is called and they verbally can talk to the tow person to assure payment by the insurance. Some tow companies are tough on pay though. Again some tow companies will take the person to where the vehicle is being towed, but many cannot due to insurance that prevents them. Officers cannot take a person home very often due to duty restrictions.

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