A sign warns drivers entering a canyon east of Hayden to watch for falling rocks. A rockslide in the canyon closed U.S. Highway 40 for two hours Monday, and the Colorado Department of Transportation crews, which can be seen in the background, were still working Tuesday to remove a large boulder that limited traffic to one lane.

Photo by John F. Russell

A sign warns drivers entering a canyon east of Hayden to watch for falling rocks. A rockslide in the canyon closed U.S. Highway 40 for two hours Monday, and the Colorado Department of Transportation crews, which can be seen in the background, were still working Tuesday to remove a large boulder that limited traffic to one lane.

CDOT plans more rock work along US 40 near Hayden

Agency hopes to get funding for netting, fencing

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A sign warns drivers entering a canyon east of Hayden to watch for falling rocks. A rockslide in the canyon closed U.S. Highway 40 for two hours Monday.

— Colorado Department of Transportation officials are moving forward with plans to make the Mount Harris area of U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Hayden safer for drivers.

A day after the third rockslide in the area this month, the agency announced Tuesday that it had contracted with Yenter Companies, of Arvada, to continue rock scaling started by CDOT crews in recent weeks. And CDOT Region 3 Director Dave Eller said he thinks the agency can get funding for a preliminary netting and fencing project for Mount Harris.

“The likelihood for it getting some money for preventative maintenance issues is high,” he said. “How much money, I’m not sure right now. We’re still working through those issues.”

The need for more mitigation efforts in the Mount Harris area became more apparent Monday after the third rockslide in as many weeks and the second that caused injury. A massive slab broke off the canyon wall, sending boulders and rocks into the highway.

A car and a truck were damaged in the slide, which happened at about 8 a.m. at mile marker 115. A passenger in the truck was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center with moderate injuries and was treated and released. Neither driver was injured.

A rockslide March 11 sent a woman to the hospital with minor injuries, and one March 17 damaged a car, but didn’t injure the driver. Craig resident Karen Evanoff was killed in March 2010 by a falling rock in the same area.

Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, chairwoman of the Northwest Transportation Planning Region, has been working with Eller to resolve the rockslide issues in the Mount Harris area.

“It’s clearly a safety issue,” she said. “We’ve already had a fatality and other personal injury accidents. We hope to prevent that. … This is a major commuter route.”

Eller said because $4 million from the state’s rockfall mitigation program was dedicated to other projects this year, he hoped to secure funds for a Mount Harris project through Funding Advancement for Sur­face Transportation and Eco­nomic Recovery legislation, known as FASTER.

He said that FASTER funds won’t be available until the state’s fiscal year begins July 1 but that design work already has begun.

Eller said the project, which would address some of Mount Harris’ more problematic areas, would cost $800,000 to $1 million. If funding is secured through reallocation of money intended for other projects and project savings, the netting and fencing project could take place in fall.

State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican who represents the district including Routt County, said he was trying to schedule a meeting with CDOT Director Don Hunt in an effort to have funds shifted to the Mount Harris project.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen,” he said.

Mark Eike, a regional deputy superintendent for CDOT, said a crew on Tuesday finished breaking apart and removed from the highway the slab that broke off the canyon wall Monday. Eike said U.S. 40 was expected to be opened back up to two lanes Tuesday night.

Eller said Yenter Companies, a rock-scaling specialist, will use different equipment and resources to break off and remove loose rock that CDOT crews couldn’t reach because of ice and snow. The project cost is $24,800.

He said CDOT also is patrolling the Mount Harris area around the clock to quickly clear any fallen rock. Besides that patrolling, rock scaling, and the anticipated netting and fencing project, CDOT doesn’t have longer-term plans for the area, such as building a tunnel or walls.

“Before we get into any serious, expensive, environmental right-of-way constraint projects, our first attempt will be rockfall scaling, which is pretty effective,” Eller said. “That will be our first step.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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