A 45-foot hole under the highway between Red Cliff and Leadville will keep road closed indefinitely
© Vail Daily
A 45-foot hole under the highway between Red Cliff and Leadville will keep US 24 closed indefinitely.
Leadville - A 20-by-30-foot round sinkhole that is at least 45 feet deep is keeping U.S. Highway 24 north of Leadville closed indefinitely.
Forty-five feet is as deep as Colorado Department of Transportation crews could measure Monday afternoon before engineers and geologists arrived, said Ashley Mohr, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
After about 45 feet deep, the hole starts to curl back under the highway, sort of like an asphalt-eating serpent. They're not entirely certain how far it curls under the highway, Mohr said, they're just certain that it does.
The hole puts the highway, and motorists, in danger. CDOT closed the highway Monday afternoon to traffic in both directions.
It'll stay closed until they can figure out what happened and how they might fix it.
"Safety is our first concern. We know this is an inconvenience for people," Mohr said.
Motorists should use state Highway 91 as an alternative route, she said.
"Our engineers determined it would be unsafe to allow motor vehicles on the road," Mohr said.
That means Leadville commuters - many of whom drive from Leadville to work places in Eagle County - get a yellow flag for the foreseeable future because the road is wrecked.
The sinkhole is almost exactly halfway between Red Cliff and Leadville, on the north side of Tennessee Pass. It's south of Homestake Lake and Blodgett campground.
Geologists rolled in Monday afternoon from Denver to take a look, Mohr said.
"Our engineering crews are having a look at it," Mohr said.
Sinkholes are caused by fragile land. That land moves around and hollows out at a faster pace in some places than in others, Mohr said.
Heavy rains over the past few days, after months of dry weather, could have triggered the land, Mohr said.
"It could be caused by running water, and we've had some of that. It could be a mine under there. It could be just about anything," Mohr said.
For those curious about this sort of thing, it's our second swing at a sinkhole in recent years.
In June 2003, a huge sinkhole collapsed the westbound lane of Interstate 70 above East Vail. Hundreds were evacuated from their homes overnight.
That one was caused by pretty much the same thing this one was: lots of water rushing into a small space. Heavy runoff washed out a culvert and opened a 20-foot-wide sinkhole.
It shut down a 24-mile stretch of I-70 between Copper Mountain and Vail.