Crews work around clock to fix sinkhole
SUMMIT COUNTY – Federal and state highway officials spent Monday evaluating the severity of a sinkhole that ate both eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 east of Vail and threatened westbound lanes, closing the highway to be closed.
Stacy Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) said CDOT has no idea how long it will take to repair and reopen the highway.
“It could be a week, it could be two weeks, it could be four days,” she said. “We can’t see the damage because it’s so wet.
The sinkhole developed Sunday afternoon after Bighorn Creek in Eagle County spilled over its banks, flooding a culvert under the highway and flushing dirt and rocks from under the highway down the slope below. More than 400 people were evacuated from homes below the interstate because highway crews weren’t sure how much debris might slide down the hill.
Highway officials advised truckers to use Interstate 80 in Wyoming or Interstate 40 through Arizona and New Mexico until the damage is repaired. Other drivers are being diverted over Highway 91 through Leadville or Highway 40 through Kremmling.
Crews lowered the sinkhole’s water level about 10 feet by diverting water from the broken culvert onto a driveway that was already flooded during a torrential rainstorm Sunday morning.
Stegman said crews plan to lower the water to 20 feet, where the pipe is, and send crews into it to find the break and assess the stability of the culvert in the eastbound lanes.
About 20 maintenance employees and engineers worked all Monday to drain the sinkhole.
Stegman said water was still steadily flowing from the creek into the culvert.
“It’s going to work,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
If the pipe under the eastbound lanes is stable, CDOT might open those two lanes to one lane of traffic in both directions.
This will likely be the longest the interstate has been closed in its 40-year history. The highway was closed for three days in mid-March after a severe snowstorm dumped up to 6 feet of snow in the High Country, triggering avalanches that swept across the highway. A second storm later this spring closed the highway for 13 hours after a gasoline tanker truck slid off the highway near Copper Mountain.
CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said oftentimes spring and summer weather can take a bigger toll on the state’s roadways than winter weather.
“The summer stuff takes the road with it,” he said of high water in the spring runoff. “The winter just blocks it up with some snow.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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