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One Truck Driver's Bad Day Ends Up Saving Lives

November 27, 2004

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The Denver Post reported Saturday that traffic had begun to flow -- though slowly -- on Interstate 70 after a massive rock slide in Glenwood Canyon shut down the highway.
One lane in each direction opened Friday afternoon.
The rock slide at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving day miraculously caused no casualties, but blocked the critical east-west highway sending many drivers on a three-hour, 200-mile detour through the northern mountains of Colorado.
No one was injured because there was no one on the roadway at the time of the rock slide. An earlier tractor-trailer crash had spilled 76,000 bottles of beer on the road, forcing crews to close I-70. The driver of the beer truck, Kenneth F. Campbell, 48, of Parowan, Utah, had been hauling the beer from Fort Collins to Riverside, Calif. He was treated for minor injuries. Ironically, Campbell was charged with careless driving even though his accident kept motorists out from under the tons of debris that tumbled 1,000 feet onto the roadway, smashing the pavement and flattening guardrails.
The rock slide, estimated at about 100 feet long and 10 feet deep, sent up to 40 boulders onto I-70. Damage included a hole in an elevated section of highway where a rock crashed through and landed in the Colorado River below.
"There is no long-term structural damage. The bridge looks to be structurally sound," said Nancy Shanks, a spokeswoman for the Colorado DOT "We have a hole in the deck. We have a big hole to repair, but the structure is sound."
One fallen boulder was reported to be about 10 feet wide and 10 feet tall, "about as big as a van," a DOT worker said. Another said the destruction was the most massive he had seen in his career.
The Post reported that about 20,000 vehicles a day typically pass through the Glenwood Canyon section of I-70 affected by the slide. An additional 5,000 vehicles had been expected on Thursday and Friday due to the holiday.
In a Saturday editorial, the Post advised motorists to be wary along Colorado highways.
"In the dozen years it took to build I-70 through Glenwood Canyon, engineers designed the road to reduce mud slides and rock-fall risks. But since the 18-mile stretch was finished in 1992, gravity has proven intractable. In 2002, a wheelbarrow-size rock hurtled off a 200-foot cliff and onto the roof of a pickup truck, fatally crushing a 7-year-old boy. In 1995, a falling boulder killed three people on the road. In 2002, a truck driver survived a collision with falling rock," the editorial noted.
"Glenwood Canyon may be I-70's most dramatic stretch, but it's not the most dangerous. That distinction goes to the hill between Georgetown and Silver Plume; in 20 years, the two-mile segment has had over 100 accidents involving vehicles and rocks. Rocks killed two motorists in separate accidents in 1999 and two in unrelated crashes in 2003," the Post editorial said, adding that "Colorado's worst rock-fall accident wasn't natural: In 1987, road crews pushed a boulder off Berthoud Pass, hitting a tour bus, killing nine people and injuring more than 15."

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