The trip between Shoshoni and Thermopolis could take an extra hour in the next two to four weeks due to last weekend’s Wind River Canyon rock slide and the start of a road project in the area.
Cody Beers, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said the rock slide last week allowed the department to start work early on a slide stabilization project near Shoshoni, but added the combined projects, along with a paving project near Shoshoni could add 30 to 45 minutes to a trip in the canyon.
“We’ve had to mobilize in our subcontractor because of the rock slide that happened Saturday night, and the relative instability of the area above the road,” he said.
Beers noted that it took two loaders four hours on Saturday night just to make the roadway passable due to the massive amount of debris that fell around 7 p.m., so several days will be required for a full cleanup of the area.
“So that’s going to probably take a week, and it’s going to add to the cost of that slide stabilization project through Wind River Canyon,” he said. “But it’s great that we’ve already got a contractor there and we can just do a change order and add to their scope of work.”
Put On Climbing Gear
Oftedal Construction of Casper is the primary contractor overseeing a project that will remove other loose rock from the side of the canyon to mitigate further slides that might impact traffic. Its subcontractor Midwest Rockfall, Inc. began work Tuesday, April 26, to scale smaller pieces of rock from the canyon wall which otherwise might fall onto traffic lanes.
“They will put climbing gear on and then go right up on the rocks and push loose rocks off,” Beers said. “They’ve got experienced climbers that go up there with a pole and they try to move every loose rock off.”
Some of the originally planned rockfall mitigation work includes installing rock bolts, repairing existing rock fence and installation of new rock mesh.
But Beers said the subcontractor’s work will now include emergency work at the rock slide which closed the highway Saturday evening.
“There’s several really big pieces of rock that are now loose after what happened Saturday,” he pointed out. “And so we’re going to move all that rock that fell Saturday out of there first so that we can drop those big rocks off the edge of the asphalt – because if we dropped those big rocks on the asphalt, then we’re going to have to rebuild the roadway in those areas.”
Beers pointed out that contractors are hired for this specific scope of work because the Wyoming Department of Transportation doesn’t have the equipment or the expertise to handle a project of this type.
“If it’s an occasional rock, or some smaller rocks that come down, we are able to move those off the road either with one of our loaders or a snowplow,” Beers said. “But when we’re talking the breadth of rockfall that happened, and then the aftermath of the rock slide and what’s still up on the hill that’s now loose and needs to come off, that’s where we have to enlist the experts.”
At the same time, southeast of Wind River Canyon, asphalt paving is scheduled to begin this week on a little over 8 miles of U.S. Highway 20 between Shoshoni and the Wind River Canyon.
“So if you hit it the wrong time, you’re going to end up with stop delays of 40 minutes plus,” Beers said. “In some instances it could add an hour to your drive between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.”
“They’re going to be working as fast as the weather will allow them to work,” he added.
In the end, though, Beers pointed out that the results of the work will mean a safer traveling experience through the Wind River Canyon.
“We’ve had trooper vehicles get hit by rocks, or they were blocking rock slides in there,” he said. “We’ve had our own engineers in there that had to run out of the way of rock slides. And so we did these scaling projects to hopefully get ahead of the curve and make the whole corridor more safe.”
Beers predicted that the delays caused by the two projects between Shoshoni and Thermopolis will last for a few weeks.
“It’s probably going to be like this for probably two to four weeks depending on the weather, and how quickly the contractor is able to get in there and do the work.”