I-70 to close west of Denver to remove boulders today
DENVER (AP) – Officials planned to shot down Colorado’s main east-west highway while crews blast through a cluster of boulders perched 300 feet above Interstate 70.The interstate is the main route to many of Colorado’s major ski areas, and the Tuesday closure at Georgetown Hill, about 45 miles west of Denver, coincides with the last big push of the ski season.The Colorado Department of Transportation is closing a 25-mile stretch of I-70 between Silverthorne and Georgetown from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Around 40 boulders, some as big as pickup trucks, pose a danger to highway traffic below, officials say.The closure could stretch into Wednesday if the work isn’t completed in one day.The annual average daily traffic through the area is about 30,000 vehicles, spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said. It’s the most heavily traveled rock-fall area in Colorado.The closure from the boulders has prompted some resorts off I-70 to come up with incentives to keep up their ski traffic.The Loveland Ski Area planned to have a free pancake breakfast Tuesday morning for skiers willing to beat the lane closures, spokesman John Seller said.”Of course we’d prefer if it didn’t happen during ski season, but CDOT’s been great in getting information out, and hopefully they’ll have it wrapped up on Tuesday,” Sellers said.Officials at Vail Resorts said they have been offering special lodging packages so customers can make a ski day possible during the lane closures. Keystone Ski Resort will extend its operating hours Tuesday and Wednesday.Sellers said Loveland didn’t anticipate the lane closures to hugely affect its midweek numbers, but did expect to see a decrease in traffic. “The quicker they get it done the better,” Sellers said.Steamboat Springs just got more than a foot of new snow and surpassed its previous record of 137 inches at the summit base. “If you thought your last power day was already in the books, think again,” said Chris Diamond, president for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.Officials at Steamboat said they’re not worried about the lane closures because the resort is easy accessible through alternative routes.Local traffic will be allowed farther up I-70 and can get to Georgetown or Silverthorne before hitting detour routes. For all other traffic, the major detour routes will be U.S. 40 at Empire Junction and U.S. 285 to Fairplay, both roughly 100 miles.Stegman said CDOT has a ratings system to monitor rock fall sites and they’ve been eyeing the cluster over Georgetown Hill for about a month. Over time, weathering and natural erosion have destabilized the slope.”These rocks that looked fine years ago are not fine any longer,” Stegman said.Rocks can contract in the winter but expand as the temperatures rise in the spring, Stegman said. The additional ice and moisture from melting snow can freeze and fracture rocks further. The pending instability makes highways more susceptible to rock falls.”We need to get to it now because it has the potential to come down now,” Stegman said.Authorities said crews need daylight to see the boulders and work was delayed when supply helicopters were diverted for recent wildfires.Stegman said crews will use a device similar to a shotgun shell with high impulse pressure to fracture the rocks into smaller pieces and roll them down the slope. If there’s no room for the fragments on the shoulder, crews will haul away the pieces.Five homes in potential rock fall areas have been asked to evacuate, officials said. Stegman said the homes are far away but officials took the precautions due to the uncertainty of the work.Boulders will have to roll down the slope over the highway, jump I-70 and trundle down another hill to Georgetown in order to pose a danger to residences. Netting and fences were set up in potential paths to catch falling rocks.”There’s never a good time to have a full closure of I-70, especially during the daytime,” said CDOT regional transportation director Tony DeVito. “We will not risk public safety.”
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