Controlled explosions sent tons of rock onto Highway 191 this week. Motorists traveling between Moab and Monticello could run into delays due to blasting associated with improvements to U.S. 191 between the 107 and 109 mile markers.
Since the end of August, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) engineers have been working with the contractor, Skyview Excavation and Grading of Morgan UT, to widen an area of narrow curves through “The Mule Shoe” as it was known to old-time UDOT workers.
The official line from UDOT reads, “Highway Safety Improvement Roadside Safety efforts are targeted towards keeping vehicles from leaving the roadway and mitigating crash severity when vehicles do leave the road.”
Currently cement barricades sit practically on the edge of a roadway that drops nearly one hundred feet to the floor of a small canyon below the red rock on the Northbound side. The Southbound side is not much more forgiving for those who need to use the shoulder of the road for emergencies that might strand them in the middle of the two lane highway.
“This will result in about 20 feet of shoulder on either side of the road through those curves,” explained UDOT Resident Engineer Kristopher Blanchard. “Right now it’s pretty much straight down to the canyon floor on the other side of the barricades on that Northbound side.”
Traffic delays for motorists traveling U.S. 191 through other paving projects have been the norm throughout San Juan County for the last few months but most of those projects haven’t involved explosives or the movement of massive amounts of rock.
This project, which started in earnest in late August may create some time for driver as well as passenger to safely observe the beauty of the Canyon Country at that point of the road while stopped. According to UDOT Region 4 Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen there will be closures of approximately 45 minutes that could result in delays of up to 90 minutes with built up traffic queues. The work on the area is continuing through November.
The project involves blasting and the use of a large hydraulic excavator with rock jack to break away large amounts of sandstone and move it to the canyon floor for the base of the extended shoulder.
One such blast on Monday, October 7 sent a tumble of rock onto thick steel plates laid out on the pavement to protect it from impacts of the multi-ton boulders created by the fracturing.
Working on a tight schedule with the goal being to reopen travel to traffic, a track hoe with a hydraulic thumb attached to its bucket grabbed automobile-sized boulders and loaded them into a waiting dump truck along with smaller debris from the blast. A pair of front end loaders came into play, as a well choreographed dance pushed rock to the track hoe clearing the plates of the material that had just come down.
In addition to providing a measure of safety by creating new shoulders through that stretch of the highway, work even higher up the cliff face will take place to create a ledge that will catch or slow any naturally falling rock that may be dislodged by natural erosion. Engineers have designed that improvement to catch smaller rock falls and slowing the momentum of larger rocks, to keep them from making it all the way to the travel lanes of the highway if they do come down.
UDOT has posted illuminated signs to give motorists a heads-up on dates and times of the delays. Currently the blasts are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday through Thursday.