Gov. Hickenlooper declares disaster emergency for rockslide near Ouray

March 3, 2014 - Southwestern Colorado/CDOT Region 5 - DENVER — Monday, March 3, 2014 — Gov. John Hickenlooper today signed an Executive Order that declares an emergency disaster due to a rockslide on U.S. Highway 550 near Ouray.

“The construction of permanent mitigation along this stretch of the highway will ensure safe travel over the pass for local residents and safeguard against future rockslide incidents,” the governor’s Executive Order says. “This declaration shall permit the Colorado Department of Transportation to pursue federal transportation emergency relief funds, as is provided under the United States Code. Furthermore, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Division Administrator is respectfully requested to concur in the declaration of this emergency for the purposes of securing FHWA Emergency Relief Program funds.”

According to the Executive Order:

The rockslide happened Jan. 12, 2014, two miles south of Ouray on U.S. Highway 550 over Red Mountain Pass. This section of the highway consists of a narrow road cut into the side of a mountain, causing one side of the road to be adjacent to a steep cliff of rock. As a result of the slide, the highway was closed for 20 days. Red Mountain Pass is used by approximately 2,200 vehicles per day, and the closure required up to a 201-mile detour.

During the closure, highway crew members initially tried to secure the debris area using rock scaling.  However, the area proved to be too large for this approach to be effective.  Two helicopters were used to place 36 rockfall panels on the slope. The panels covered a total of 31,000 square feet along the slope side  Each panel weighs about 600 pounds and measures 72 feet by 12 feet.

On Jan. 31, 2014, the highway was temporarily opened twice a day from 6:30 to 8:30 am and 4:30 to 6:30 pm. During the afternoon hours, highway crew members worked on installing mitigation fencing along the roadside. Temporary fencing was installed – 360 feet long and 24 feet high – to further safeguard travel on the highway until a more permanent solution is in place. All of this work was performed safely in dangerous winter weather conditions. One lane of alternating traffic was reopened to the public on Feb. 10, 2014.

The order says permanent mitigation is needed to ensure safety to the public traveling on this important mountain corridor. The Colorado Transportation Commission provided $173,588 in contingency funding for the design of permanent mitigation. Funding has not been identified for construction, but early estimates of construction costs are around $2.3 million.

Click here for the full Executive Order.