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July 11, 2012
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Sinkhole doesn't sink local attractions

The sinkhole that closed Highway 24 has not closed any of the businesses along that road.

The sinkhole caused by a collapsed railroad tunnel is almost exactly halfway between Red Cliff and Leadville, near the top of Tennessee Pass.

Businesses and attractions like Nova Guides and Camp Hale are well short of any trouble, and right on your way to a good time, a Nova Guides spokesman said Wednesday.

"We are open and having a great time," said John Knight, with Nova Guides. "The highway is closed at mile marker 165. We're six miles short of that and you can reach us with no trouble."

Everything in Red Cliff and Minturn is also open. Travelers hoping to visit Camp Hale will be able to do so.

"We're closing as little of the highway as possible," said Ashley Mohr, Colorado Department of Transportation's regional public relations manager.

A sinkhole 20 feet by 30 feet and at least 100 feet deep collapsed Monday, and CDOT closed Highway 24 in both directions. So far, they're trying to determine how extensive the repairs will have to be, and how long it will take.

In the meantime, the highway - at mile marker 165 only - will remain closed indefinitely to all traffic, Mohr said, and that included bicycles.

"No bicycles whatsoever. The area is an active construction zone and cyclists are not allowed through for their own safety," Mohr said.

Motorists, including those who live locally, must detour over State Highway 91.

CDOT crews are taking soil samples to help determine the impacts of the sinkhole, as well as the soil composition. That will help them determine what repairs are necessary and how to make them.

The sinkhole is actually a century-old abandoned railroad tunnel that collapsed decades ago. The tunnel was built between 1900 and 1910 and ran under Tennessee Pass, but collapsed when the wood beams supporting it gave away.

When that original tunnel collapsed, it filled with all sorts of earth and rock.

Federal highway officials built U.S. Highway 24 right over that collapsed tunnel and we've been driving over it ever since.

Since the hole reached so far into the earth, much of the soil was still frozen until recently. The hot weather finally finished melting it and it collapsed Monday, Mohr said.

No one is certain if highway engineers at the time knew about the collapsed tunnel, or even if Union Pacific knew about it, Mohr said.

Union Pacific Railroad built another tunnel in the 1940s, said Mark Davis with Union Pacific.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 11, 2012 08:34PM Published Jul 11, 2012 08:30PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.