US 40 between Hayden and Milner closed for over five hours due to rockslide (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A rockslide closed U.S. Highway 40 east of Hayden Station from around 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.
No injuries were reported.
For the entire afternoon, authorities said the road would be “closed indefinitely.”
The rockslide occurred in Mount Harris Canyon, near mile marker 116 and close to the intersection of U.S. 40 and Routt County Road 52.
Traffic, including shuttles to and from the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, were rerouted onto Routt County roads 33 and 27.
The delay was primarily due to the need to wait for a geotechnical team to get to the site and assess any remaining danger before cars could be allowed back on the road, according to Matt Inzeo, communications director for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Because some of the existing rock fencing in the canyon fell with the slide, and it was an area in which rockfall mitigation work is regularly conducted, “We need our experts to take a look until we can have the confidence the road is safe, and the rockface is safe,” Inzeo said. “We are not going to put motorists in a situation where we believe there is risk.”
At about 4 p.m. on Sunday, Inzeo said CDOT experts were enroute, but it was not certain they would make it in time to make a full assessment before dark. However they did, likely helped by the extra hour of daylight.
“The fundamental prerequisites is that we get the geotechnical specialists to personally examine the site,” Inzeo said. “Based on that assessment, we determined it was safe to the traveling public, and we reopened it.”
This is the time of year when rockslides are fairly common, Inzeo said. It warms up in the day but still drops below freezing at night — creating an aggressive freeze and thaw cycle. Sunday’s high temperature was around 45 degrees.
As the snow melts, water is moving over, under and into rocks in ways not visible, Inzeo said. When it freezes at night, “it creates expansion pressure on the rock formation.”
According to Kevin Booth, director of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, shuttles were successfully rerouted onto the alternate routes, and the first departing flight after the rockslide was able to delay the boarding process long enough for all shuttles to arrive.
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