Sinkhole near Paonia closes Hwy 133 for significant period

CDOT predicting up to two months for repair

By Katherine Nettles

As spring runoff kicks into high gear, a significant sinkhole developed on Colorado Highway 133 near Somerset, causing major infrastructure damage and the closure of Highway 133 north of Paonia in both directions until further notice.  

The sinkhole started on Saturday, April 29, between mile markers 14 and 19. The location is within Gunnison County but very close to the boundary with Delta County, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) holds jurisdiction over that highway. CDOT has been working with both Gunnison County and Delta County to manage the situation, and no injuries have been reported. 

After some initially more optimistic outlooks, CDOT issued a safety closure last week and has asked that motorists avoid the area. 

CDOT has anticipated that its repairs to the roadway could take one to two months. Gunnison County Emergency Management director Scott Morrill said his department has been involved since April 29, and explained that CDOT will do the repair. “This is a CDOT event, however we are coordinating the consequence management side of things, which is fairly complex. It is a multi-county (Gunnison, Delta, Pitkin, Garfield) and multi-agency event.”

Gunnison County Public Works director Martin Schmidt described the situation last week during the Gunnison County commissioners’ regular Tuesday meeting. 

“[Highway] 133 has a hole in it that they can’t repair at this time,” he said of CDOT’s appraisal. “And the reason they can’t repair it is that the water continues to flow. They need the water to stop to do that.” 

At the May 1 meeting, Schmidt reported that CDOT had actually downgraded their level of concern between April 29 and May 1, and did not think the highway would be closed.  

Gunnison County commissioner chair Jonathan Houck reviewed that measures were being taken for debris catchment to prevent the nearby culverts from getting clogged and other precautionary steps to minimize damage and hazards. 

“And then a bunch of inter-agency coordination is going on for first responders,” added Schmidt. 

However, by May 3 the sinkhole had grown and damaged a nearby culvert despite the inter-agency efforts. CDOT announced the road closure in a news release on May 3, citing “significant damage” to the roadway and a damaged culvert near the roadway. 

“CDOT is pursuing temporary ways of safely reopening the roadway, but those options will be limited due to ongoing spring runoff and nearby terrain,” according to the news release.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has temporarily closed Paonia State Park to the public until crews can repair the damage that is near the southern park entrance, in addition to a separate rockslide that occurred near the park’s northern entrance and deposited debris which is blocking the highway.

CPW has issued full refunds to all campers with reservations at the park through May 17, and expects to be able to open the park by May 17 once the rockslide on the north side of the park has been cleared, but advised campers with reservations after May 17 that they will have to access the park from the north side until the sinkhole is repaired enough to allow traffic to move through. 

Travelers are encouraged to use COtrip.org for planning an alternate route around the area.

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