CDOT aiming to remove 25-ton boulder from road shoulder in Dowd Junction | VailDaily.com
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CDOT aiming to remove 25-ton boulder from road shoulder in Dowd Junction

A large section of rock sits next to Interstate 70 after falling from the ledge above (upper right) in Dowd Junction near Vail. Rockfall hazards become more frequent during the freeze and thaw cycles of spring and fall.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |

EAGLE-VAIL — You may have noticed there’s a 25-ton boulder sitting alongside Interstate 70 in Dowd Junction, causing the concrete barrier to bulge out toward westbound traffic.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is hoping to begin cleanup efforts on the massive rock in the coming months, if weather permits.

Weather hasn’t exactly been permitting these days, with rain and snow making things messy on I-70 throughout the county. The freeze and thaw cycle of spring and fall is known to contribute to rockfall, and in the case of the 25-ton boulder in Dowd Junction, it was the fall freeze and thaw cycle that brought it down.

“We were called out to it in the middle of the night, in late November,” said Tracy Trulove with CDOT. “We definitely see rockfall pick up in the spring and the fall, when we’re getting more moisture and it gets cold at night. That’s when we get that freeze-thaw cycle.”

‘ONE OF THE ONLY NATURAL HAZARDS’

As water reaches cracks and crevasses in rocks and then expands when frozen, rainy conditions during the day and freezing conditions at night increase the potential for a rockfall hazard to occur.

“When we start getting these big rainstorms, I always tense up a bit,” Trulove said. “Driving in Colorado, one of the only natural hazards we have here is rockfall. … It’s always good for people to be mindful, if you’re driving and it’s daylight and you see rocks trickling down … oftentimes that will be the start of something bigger.”

Trulove said motorists can be the department’s best resource for real-time information on the ground — or hillside.

“Alert Colorado State Patrol, and they’ll let us know,” she said. “And then our teams will go out and check it out.”

BARRIERS TO BE REPLACED

The CDOT Geo Hazards Team inspects all large rockfall incidents in Colorado. Throughout the state, they monitor roughly 750 rockfall sites, one of which is Dowd Junction on I-70 between mile markers 171 and 173.

Rockfall mitigation work including fencing and other precautions have been undertaken in parts of Dowd Junction near the area where the November incident occurred. While the rock landed clear of the shoulder on the right side of the concrete barrier, it did dent the barrier slightly toward the roadway, so cleanup will also involve replacing those barriers.

Removing the rock will require breaking it into smaller pieces first using explosives.

“We might have to do a lane closure to get a truck in there, even though it’s on the shoulder,” Trulove said.


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