Storm, flash flood damages State Rt. 211 in Dry Valley
by David Boyle
Damages from flash flooding in Dry Valley have closed the main road accessing Canyonlands National Park for at least several weeks. With crews in the early stages of assessment, State Route 211 could be closed for longer.
Afternoon flooding on Sunday, August 14 caused the Utah Highway Patrol to stop traffic on US 191 near the intersection of Highway 191 and SR 211 on Sunday afternoon.
After a few hours of alternating traffic in the center lane, highway 191 was eventually reopened, but massive damage has been reported on SR 211.
Damage to the road includes parts of the asphalt breaking off in pieces, as well as undercutting of the road which means the road will be closed for some time.
SR 211 provides access from the highway to the Needles District of Canyonlands, as well as the Indian Creek climbing area and Newspaper Rock.
With SR 211 closed officials are re-routing traffic through County Road 101 or Hearts Draw road. The paved road goes from Monticello over the Abajos and connects with SR 211 past the severe damage of the flash flood.
Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) Region 4 Communication manager Kevin Kitchen shared Monday afternoon that crews arrive on Sunday afternoon and are now in the early process of acquiring measurements and quantitative assessments of the damage to the road using drones. UDOT is also locating materials to replace the washed-out silt.
UDOT hopes for an assessment and approach to address the issue by next week.
Kitchen said UDOT has never seen a similar erosion event on 211 before, noting that only a small cut ditch ran adjacent to the road.
“That cut ditch could vary from maybe 18 inches to two feet in depth prior to this event. We have locations now that are probably over 20 feet in depth and several feet across. So it is a very significant erosion that has taken place adjacent to the road. The road basically acted as a dam, and the water traveled alongside of it and just cut down through that sand.”
In addition to damage to the road, which was repaved last summer to the tune of $6 million, the flash flooding undercut fencing and cattle guards near the road, as well as partially burying in silt some fencing near US 191.
Additional damage was reported to Glamping Canyonlands, a private camping area near the intersection of US 191 and SR 211.
The company reported no damage to their buildings or tents, but did report damage to fencing, parking, and water storage areas.
The company hopes to be back and running in a few days and already had crews on hand to address the parking area on Monday evening.
Kitchen also reported that providing access to Glamping Canyonlands on SR 211 is a priority of UDOT crews.
Kitchen adds they are working with meteorological professionals to answer a common question regarding floods. That question is what is the likelihood of losing more of the road with repeating events?
“From what we can tell this was very isolated. It’s an anomaly to a large degree, but I think we’re seeing these bigger storms. You saw what happened down with Cottonwood.”
Cottonwood bridge on SR-95 was closed for months in 2021. in August of 2021. A routine bi-annual inspection revealed high flows during flash flooding scoured a lower layer of rock, leaving upper layers unsupported.
Additional issues to repairing the road include funding. Considering the relatively-low volume use of the road – compared to other state-maintained routes – and the improvements last year means annual 211 maintenance funds will likely not cover the costs of repair.