The section of Highway 41 in Madera County that was closed Tuesday because of a rock slide was reopened around 6 p.m. Wednesday, Caltrans reported.
Gloria Rodriguez, a Caltrans spokeswoman, said the agency worked hard to reopen the highway before the evening commuters got off work, but it took longer than first anticipated. Geologists deemed other rocks on the hillside unsafe, and many had to be removed before cleanup of the highway could begin.
Rodriguez said that most of the rocks were cleared as of 3 p.m. Crews worked for several hours to clean up the highway and fill potholes created by the giant boulders.
Doug Cook, engineering geologist with Caltrans, said Tuesday’s rock slide was the most serious in that location in decades. “There have been no reported failures on this slope in 25 years,” he said, adding that the cause was heavy rain in the area.
Adam Wimberly of Caltrans’ District 6 office in Coarsegold, said Wednesday’s work involved “removing small- to medium-sized rocks that can potentially come down during the next rain event.” With Highway 41 shut down, Wimberly said it was safer to remove any loose rocks on the steep, rocky hillside than wait for them to tumble down in a future storm.
“We’re trying to get the road open as quickly as we can, as safely as we can, and prevent any accidents in the future, if we can,” he said. Wimberly said the welcome rains have caused concern for the agency with more potential for problems. “We’ve got water coming out of places that generally haven’t had any for a long time.”
Sierra Ambulance Service Inc. Executive Director Ed Guzman said the rock slide affected his business, which primarily transports patients from the mountain communities to larger Fresno hospitals.
“We have to use a detour down a pretty crummy road,” Guzman said. “It adds about 10 to 15 minutes to our transports, which are already about an hour.”
Guzman said that one patient transport had to be rerouted to John C Fremont Medical Clinic in Mariposa. Most have been successfully routed to Fresno using the detours.
Sierra Ambulance had not yet had any trauma patients by Wednesday, Guzman said. Because of the closure, anyone with critical injuries would have needed to be transported by helicopter.