On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis visited Memorial Rock – the famous house-sized boulder that on May 24 wiped out a large section of Colorado Highway 145 northeast of Dolores.
Polis marveled at the size of the boulder and the fast-track repair job by the Colorado Department of Transportation that cost $1.12 million.
“I want to thank you all for your hard work. It is exciting to visit,” he told a crowd of CDOT workers and interested residents.
The boulder was one of two that fell that day from a cliff band 926 feet above the roadway. No one was injured.
One boulder, the smaller one weighing 2.3 million pounds, created a crater in the roadway and had to be blasted. The other, the bigger boulder weighing in at 8.5 million pounds, came to rest on the shoulder and was named Memorial Rock by the Governor’s Office because it came down late Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend.
When the two boulders fell, CDOT crews mobilized to assess the situation and begin the process of opening up the key travel route, said CDOT official Mike McVaugh.
”Within 68 hours, we had one lane open and traffic moving again,” he said.
Two days later, emergency bids were put out for the work to clear and repair the highway. In nine weeks, the highway was fully repaired and did not have to be re-routed.
CDOT superintendent John Palmer provided details of the rockfall damage.
Memorial Rock traveled 1,850 feet, and when it hit, it created a 30-foot-wide, 15-foot-deep gouge in the highway. The other boulder that was blasted apart landed on the roadway and created an 8-foot-deep crater.
“When I got the call, it was for possible large rocks in the road. Quite the understatement,” he said.
Polis thanked the numerous contractors, some of whom were in the crowd, for the repair work and recent rock hazard mitigation in the valley.
“It was a great turnaround – reopening the road that is such an important artery for the community,” he said. “Getting it done in an efficient way is great for the taxpayers.”
Polis unveiled a “Memorial Rock” sign and a “Point of Interest” sign that will be installed near the rock. He emphasized that for safety reasons, drivers should not slow down or stop at the rock site.
Polis thanked landowner Richard Tibbits for his cooperation and patience while the road was repaired. The rock landed on Tibbit’s property, causing damage to a waterline.
CDOT installed a fence around the rock, and “no trespassing” signs were put up to discourage onlookers from stopping on Tibbits’ land to view “my new rock,” he said.
“They did a great job on the road repair,” said Tibbits, who wore a T-shirt promoting Coloradogoofy.com for a nearby rock formation that resembles the Disney cartoon character.
Onlookers applauded after the speeches and were happy to see the governor.
“I’m glad he made it down to our part of the state,’” said one woman who came with friends and sat in lawn chairs on the roadway to watch the speeches.
One lane closed for the one-hour event, but traffic was allowed using the other lane. The governor insisted that the road not be entirely closed for the ceremony, said CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes.