Rockslide hits car, closes I-70 |

Rockslide hits car, closes I-70

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A mess of rocks broke loose from the north wall of Glenwood Canyon Friday morning, closing eastbound Interstate 70 in both directions for more than two hours.

Two separate slides broke free shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, sending one large boulder hurtling about 300 feet down onto the hood of a Toyota Sienna minivan driven by Linda English of Glenwood Springs. Neither she nor her passenger, Leroy Smith, was hurt, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

But the front end of the van was crushed, a Colorado Department of Transportation engineer said.

“The front end was demolished, but it didn’t get into the passenger area,” CDOT project engineer Alex Evonitz said. “The person was very lucky.”

Evonitz figures one slide was caused by gravity and possibly pushed out by expanding ice formed during the chilly overnight hours, and those falling rocks loosened others nearby, causing a second slide.

“It looks like we maybe had one event that triggered another one,” Evonitz said.

One westbound lane was opened first, around 10 a.m., then a single eastbound lane was opened at 10:25 a.m. Traffic was backed up and moving slowly for the rest of the morning, and was occasionally closed for short periods to allow crews to repair damaged pavement dented from the boulders.

“We’ve got about a half dozen (boulders) on the westbound side,” Evonitz said.

The holes in the road were up to 10 inches deep and some were three feet across.

“At least two large rocks made it into the river,” he said.

One rock splashed into an eddy just below a popular kayakers play spot, called the All Day Wave, said Joe Elsen, program engineer for CDOT.

One huge boulder pulverized smaller rocks on the riverbank.

Evonitz said he and other CDOT engineers initially had some concern about the structural stability of the eastbound lanes of I-70 because of a long crack in the pavement, but they determined the road would be safe for travel.

“When we do the final repairs, we’ll probably open it up a little bit to make sure there’s no structural damage,” he said.

In wet, cold weather, rockfall becomes more common, Evonitz said.

“Obviously we’ve had a drought for so many years and everyone wants the water, but unfortunately it makes events like this a little more likely,” he said. “Water acts as a lubricant, and we’ve had some cold nights over the past few nights, too.”

Water expands when it freezes, and over time, ice will act like a wedge in prying rocks away from cliff walls.

To get rid of the rocks, CDOT crews said they’d use two techniques. Both involve drilling holes into the boulders. Then crews either pour in hydraulic cement that slowly expands and breaks the rock apart over a half hour, or they place a small explosive into the rock and blow it up.

Traffic can stay open when the hydraulic cement is used, but it needs to be stopped for a few minutes when the rocks are blasted.

“We’re going to get some boulder blasters,” said CDOT crew leader Resa Dennie. “We drill in and put a cap in there and blow up the rocks.”

The rock pieces will then be loaded into trucks in the closed lane, she said.

Crews expected to blow up some rocks on Friday, and use the concrete process over the weekend.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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