Vail Daily letter: Do we have a plan? |

Vail Daily letter: Do we have a plan?

Many years ago, as I stood a new freshman at the Colorado School of Mines, my hard-bitten, highly experienced professors remarked that the Colorado Department of Transportation built highways as if slump did not exist (slump occurs when a coherent mass of loosely consolidated materials or rock layers moves a short distance down a slope. Causes of slumping include earthquake shocks, thorough wetting, freezing and thawing, undercutting and loading of a slope), and developers in Colorado always acted as if the wettest year on record was normal (thus sustaining a greater population), despite the fact that Colorado is actually an area that drifts from arid to semi-arid and back over time.

Times have changed. A recent article in The Mines Magazine ( describes how for the past three years the Department of Transportation has been working with Professor Ning Lu, a professor in the Colorado School of Mines Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, seeking a long-term solution to the seasonal slope instability. However, I was surprised to read that those of us west of the Eisenhower Tunnel dependent on I-70 are actually facing a potentially catastrophic failure of our main corridor east at a location called “The Big Bump.” The article describes the issue in some detail.

“Located about a mile west of the Eisenhower Tunnel in Summit County, the Big Bump is a perennial headache for CDOT. The dip forms in the eastbound lanes on a slope-side stretch of highway perched hundreds of feet above Straight Creek. As spring snowmelt soaks underlying layers of rock and soil, the roadbed sinks a few inches every year. When it gets bad enough, CDOT repaves to level things out, but come the following June, the Big Bump returns.”

About 6 or 7 feet of asphalt have been laid down over the years to accommodate the slump.

Lu refers to the slippage on I-70 as a slow-motion landslide.

“CDOT keeps laying over more asphalt, but that’s just a short-term solution. With each passing year, the chance of a catastrophic event grows, and finding a long-term sustainable engineering solution is critical.”

The article states that “ CDOT has looked at various options for permanently stabilizing the slope” but “projects of this magnitude would necessitate closing I-70 for several months and diverting traffic over Loveland Pass, which would result in hours of delays, have a national impact on transit and shipping, and wreak havoc with state commerce and tourism. Such economic costs need to be considered along with the cost of construction.”

My questions are: Has any public body west of the tunnel examined the issues associated with either major repairs to I-70 resulting in closure for months, or catastrophic failure of I-70? What would the impacts be on our communities and how would we mitigate them? How long would the corridor be closed if catastrophic failure occurs? Do we have a plan at any government level if I-70 fails catastrophically at The Big Bump?

John Valersky


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