By Matt Kroschel

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The shrill of a blast alert horn welcomed a CBS4 crew into the site of one of the largest rock slides to strike Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon since its completion.

CBS4 photojournalist John Mason and I, wearing safety hard hats, were inside what looked like the bombed out set of some blockbuster movie. Boulders the size of a Toyota Corolla teetered on the edge of the upper highway deck. Gaping holes and exposed bent rebar were everywhere.

(credit: CDOT)

(credit: CDOT)

And then another horn blast and a “lookout more is coming down” yelled by a Colorado Department of Transportation safety spotter.

Tumbling down the steep canyon wall more boulders were falling. High above, workers scaled the canyon walls inspecting rocks to find ones that may still come down. Geologists in a helicopter inspected the shifting granite wall and the assessment was not good.

RELATED: February Thaw Means More Colorado Rock Slides

CDOT workers are doing battle with Mother Nature.

While CDOT still hopes to open the highway Thursday afternoon to single-lane, alternating traffic, it’s not a certainty at this point.

Rock scaling operations continued Wednesday in Glenwood Canyon, bringing significantly more debris down from the slope than originally anticipated, CDOT officials on the slide zone report.

Rock slide crews are continuing to stabilize the slope and rock slide mitigation fencing will be installed on top of the westbound barrier walls. Crews will also be working to remove the damaged wall and guardrail in the westbound lanes.

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Those fixes will do the trick for now but if history has shown anything, more rocks will be coming down in the future.

It’s not really CDOT’s fault. How do you do rock slide mitigation on miles of cliff walls that constantly are shifting? Bottom line: Even after they get the boulders removed from this latest slide, CDOT estimates it could be a month before repairs to the road are completed.

In the meantime, crews will be ready to implement single-lane, alternating traffic control if it is determined the site is safe for travel. Once implemented, the pilot car configuration will run about six miles through the damaged slide area.

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The bad news: CDOT says to expect at least an hour delay getting through the canyon during the pilot car operation that could drag on for days.

There is a lot of frustration right now from businesses cut off and drivers forced to detour hours out of the way, but with the interstate torn up like our CBS4 crew witnessed on his tour of the area Tuesday, there is no safe alternative.

Additional Resources

Read a news release from CDOT that includes more information on the closure, travel impacts and alternate routes.

Matt Kroschel covers news throughout Colorado working from the CBS4 Mountain Newsroom. Send story ideas to mrkroschel@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter @Matt_Kroschel.

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