A 17-mile stretch of Interstate-70 between Glenwood Springs and Dotsero could be closed for days after a large rockslide crushed the road early Monday morning.
Around midnight, an estimated 20 boulders crashed from the sheer cliff side into all lanes of the road, leaving gaping holes in elevated portions of the road and some even embedding into the pavement.
Also damaged are about 120 feet of steel guardrail and 100 feet of median barrier. The westbound lanes were the most badly damaged, but no one was injured.
Spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation Nancy Shanks said she suspects the road will reopen within the week, although repairs to the damaged road could take much longer.
â€œItâ€™s safe to say it opened within 24 hours last time, so it shouldnâ€™t be too much longer,â€ Shanks said referencing a smaller 2004 rockslide.
The road services the major Aspen-area ski resorts and is one of the major corridors for interstate commerce and travel west of Denver.
The shortest detour adds about 200 miles to a trip, so Shanks recommended anyone planning to travel check CDOTâ€™s Web site before heading out.
The boulders range from three to ten feet in size and must be blasted apart or broken up and removed before the road can be reopened and repairs started. The largest boulder weighs about 66 tons, Shanks said, approximately the weight of a small blue whale or 30 to 40 cars.
As of 3 p.m. Monday, three of the boulders had been removed, with others in the works. But, according to CDOTâ€™s Web site, another unstable boulder had halted most progress until today, when crews can try to stabilize the rock in the safety of daylight.
The exact cause of the slide has not been determined.
â€œMostly these slides are due to some freeze/thaw occurrences,â€ Shanks said.
A deep fissure running through the mountain caused the 2004 slide on Thanksgiving Day. Though Mondayâ€™s rockslide happened in the same vicinity, the rocks fell from a different location than the 2004 slide.
In 2004, the road was reopened after 24 hours, although repairs took at least two months to complete and cost nearly $700,000, Shanks said.
The cost of repairing damage from this slide will probably be much higher, she said.
Staff writer Sara Michael can be reached at email@example.com.