Explosive efforts clear SR 128

Rock slide blocks traffic on 128 for 12 hours

Five camper sized boulders landed on River Road about 1/2 mile away from Lions Park in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 3. Traffic on River Road was snarled all day. Around 3pm River Road was closed in both directions and two large boulders were demolished with low yield explosive charges. The remaining debris was picked up with two bucket loaders. Just as UDOT detonated the charges, a base jumper glided in out of the cloudy skies. He was startled, but landed safely.
Photo by Anthony Militano, The Times-Independent

As rains soften the earth around Moab, the risk of rock slides in the area has become elevated. Accordingly, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office reported a rock slide that took place on the morning of Sunday, March 3, on Highway 128 near the intersection with Highway 191.

Both lanes of traffic were closed as Utah Department of Transportation crews cleared the debris. It took until about 5 p.m. before UDOT could open a lane of traffic, as explosives were required to clear the boulders from the road.

Rocks had fallen onto Highway 128 the previous day as well, although the debris was smaller and more quickly cleared. That incident took place farther east on the River Road, near Dewey Bridge.

UDOT drilled holes in the large boulders that had fallen onto Highway 128 on Sunday, March 3, and filled them with explosive charges.
Photo by Anthony Militano, The Times-Independent

“All the cracks in the rock walls: when it gets wet and we get that freeze-thaw going, eventually that process pops some rocks off,” District Engineer Jared Beard told The Times-Independent at the scene. “A section broke loose this morning and blocked the road on us, so we’ve got to clean it up. It’s a mess.”

By 8 p.m., both lanes of travel on S.R. 128 were opened, just after 12 hours—and a few explosions—after the incident was reported.

“These canyon roads are a challenge for us,” Beard told The T-I. “You always have issues like this pop up, but guys jump on it quick to make sure we try to keep the road safe.”

A rock slide also created a safety hazard in Zion National Park on Sunday after a retaining wall failed and undercut the support of a switchback road near the entrance of the park. In a press release, the National Park System pointed to higher-than-normal rainfall as a cause in the Zion incident.