Giant boulders block portion of Hwy 36 north of Lyons; CDOT working to blast rocks, clear lanes

One lane open with pilot car

LYONS, Colo. - CDOT is working to remove debris after two giant boulders blocking a portion of U.S. Highway 36 between Lyons and Estes Park were blasted to clear the roadway.

Traffic in the area near mile marker 17.6, west of Lyons, is back up to one lane after the blasting. The highways is limited to one lane for the next few months due to an ongoing construction project.

It's all part of a year-long project to complete repairs on U.S. 36 between Lyons and Estes Park after the destructive September floods. 

CDOT said their efforts to blast away part of a mountain, so road crews could move Highway 36 farther from the St. Vrain River, yielded the boulders so big that crews could not immediately remove them Monday.

CDOT spokeswoman Ashley Mohr told 7NEWS that crews returned to the canyon Tuesday to blast the boulders into smaller pieces so they could be moved.

In a news release sent out Monday night, Mohr said:

“Effective immediately, all motorists will be escorted through the area via pilot car throughout the night and through the morning commute tomorrow (which will end at 8 a.m.). Crews have made certain that varying types of motorists can pass through the area with the pilot car tomorrow morning, including the school buses taking children to Lyons tomorrow morning, however tractor trailers will not fit through the pathway and should use the State Highway 7 detour route. The majority of the smaller rocks have been moved from the area, and a path has been created around the two large boulders that are currently blocking the road. Motorists will be directed through the path (which is near the river channel) very slowly, as the road is rough, until 8 a.m. when the crews will begin working to break apart the extremely large boulders. More information will be forthcoming, but another full closure is possible at that time.

Crews will be working all night to maintain safety in the area, and motorists should plan for lengthier delays during the morning commute from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. State Highway 7 remains the detour route between Estes Park to Lyons for those who can use it. Motorists are thanks extensively for their patience and understanding, and are reminded to drive Slow for the Cone Zone!"

CDOT and its contractor, American Civil Constructors, drilled several 60 foot holes into a granite mountainside on the north side of the highway and filled them with detonating material.

They set off a blast at midday Monday in an effort to stabilize the highway below.

"It's too close to the river," Mohr said, "and could be washed away if the river floods again."

She said that in order to stabilize the highway, they have to move it.

"Basically the river is going to flow where it wants to flow," she said. "We know that we stand a better chance by moving the highway away from it."

Mohr said that in order to move the highway they have to move the mountain.

The blast Monday dislodged 5,000 cubic yards of rock from the face of the mountain.

"That's equivalent to about 5,000 dishwashers," Mohr said.

Initially, CDOT hoped to have the highway open in about three hours. But some of the rocks that came down were too big to haul away or to even push off the highway.

"One was the size of an excavator," Mohr said. "Another was double that."

CDOT says the construction project will greatly delay traffic on U.S. 36 and recommends drivers use the alternative routes of U.S. 34 between Loveland and Estes Park, and State Highway 7 between Estes Park and Lyons.

Work on the emergency repairs began in January and the first phase of work is scheduled for completion in mid-May, CDOT says. Phase two is expected to stretch from mid-May until winter 2014.

Motorists with questions about the Highway 36 repairs were urged to call CDOT at 970-591-0001.

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