Hayden Colorado Department of Transportation officials say they’ll continue to work to make the Mount Harris stretch of U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Hayden safer for motorists, but there’s a lack of funding and no specific timetable for long-term improvements.
The third rockslide of the month occurred near mile marker 115 at about 8 a.m. Monday when a monstrous chunk of rock broke free from the canyon wall and fell to the highway. The largest section of rock was about 15 feet tall, 20 feet wide and 7 feet thick.
The rockslide closed U.S. 40 for more than two hours while CDOT crews worked to clear the debris. The highway eventually opened to one lane of alternating traffic, and it remained that way until 7:25 p.m. Monday when a crew stopped its work for the night, CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said. She said the crew would resume its work breaking up the remaining one-third of the rock today, and motorists should expect intermittent delays as the highway is again reduced to one lane of traffic.
A Steamboat man who was a passenger in one of two vehicles involved in Monday’s slide was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center with moderate injuries. He was treated and released, according to officials. The drivers of a Dodge Ram pickup and a Subaru Legacy were not injured.
Shanks said the agency’s geologists are working on the Mount Harris site and others to make them safer. She said that work includes additional rock scaling — breaking off and removing rocks — to be performed later this week.
Crews already have been performing rock-scaling work in the area during the past couple of weeks.
More substantial work would depend on funding, Shanks said. She said CDOT’s rockfall program is allotted about $4 million per year — enough money for three or four projects. The Mount Harris stretch of U.S. 40 isn’t slated to be one of those projects this year or next year.
“We do hope to secure some funding for additional work, beyond the scaling,” Shanks said. “Those additional mitigation efforts could include some rockfall netting.”
She said other possible solutions, which she couldn’t provide a timetable for, could include fencing, barriers or bolting. Shanks said those decisions would be made by CDOT’s geologists, who recently have been working in the area.
Monday’s rockslide was the third this month in that section of U.S. 40 that connects Hayden and Steamboat Springs. U.S. 40 is the primary route for commuters traveling between Steamboat and Hayden, or farther west, Craig. The only viable alternate route is taking Routt County Road 33 (Twentymile Road) to C.R. 27 east of Hayden.
A Hayden woman was injured earlier this month when a rock about 3 inches thick, 6 inches wide and 10 inches long crashed through the windshield of a vehicle she was riding in near mile marker 116. A few days later, a boulder measuring about 5 feet by 8 feet fell from the side of a cliff, landed in the shoulder of the highway and broke into pieces. No one was hurt, but a truck hit and became stuck on part of the rock.
West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman has responded to all three incidents.
“It’s that time of year — the old freeze-thaw — but this is the worst I can remember,” Rickman said. “I’ve been here 47 years and there’s always a few, but this is the worst. I can only remember three issues we’ve had out here before last year.”
Rickman said the site where Craig resident Karen Evanoff was killed in March 2010 by a falling rock is about a half-mile west of Monday’s slide.
Colorado State Patrol, Routt County Sheriff’s Office and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue personnel also responded to Monday’s rockslide.
Brian Kofke, the driver of the Subaru, was following the Dodge Ram when he saw the side of the cliff start to slide. The 40-year-old Steamboat resident said the huge chunk of rock hit the ground less than two seconds later, sending several smaller boulders — including one 3- or 4-foot-tall rock that crashed into the passenger side of the Dodge — into the highway, blocking both lanes.
Kofke said Chad Hare, the driver of the pickup, braked and swerved to the left before making contact with the rock. Kofke steered his Subaru between the guardrail and the pickup. Kofke said he, Hare and Hare’s passenger, Frank Rose, crawled out of the driver’s side windows of the vehicles and moved out of the way before calling 911.
Rose, 37, of Steamboat, was taken to YVMC with abdominal and hip pain from where the rock hit the pickup, Rickman said.
Kofke, who was on his way to Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig to take a test for the nursing degree he’s pursuing, said CDOT needs to fix the issues with rockslides in the Mount Harris area.
“I drive this road three to four times a week,” Kofke said. “And I’m vigilant about it, but it doesn’t matter how vigilant you are. It happens so quickly. We were lucky to have that second and a half. It saved our lives.”
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com