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'Long, Tedious Process' Begins To Haul Away 28 Million Pounds Of Oklahoma Rockslide Debris

A front-end loader places debris into a truck parked along I-35 that will haul the rocks to a nearby quarry.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation
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A front-end loader places debris into a truck parked along I-35 that will haul the rocks to a nearby quarry.

Late last week the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and two contractors started hauling away more than 28 million pounds of rock debris from the site of a rockslide two months ago along Interstate 35 between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

The 14,000 tons of rock from the June 18 collapse will be hauled away over the next several weeks, and ODOT says all lanes of Interstate 35 should be reopened by the end of August.

“It might not look like we’re making any progress because it still looks like a pile of rocks. But it’s a big pile of rocks,” said Chris Fuhrmann, an ODOT engineer based in Ardmore. “Some of those rocks have to be hit with an air chisel to be smaller for transport, so it’s a long, tedious process but we are making headway on it.”

Fuhrmann says once Silver Star Construction removes the rock, engineers will evaluate road surface and the base of the formation to see what damage may have been done by large falling rocks.

Last month GeoStabilization International used controlled demolition and several other machine and hand tools to remove the unstable rock from the face of the cliff. ODOT construction engineer Jay Earp says the project has been broken up into four phases.

“The first phase was doing the blasting and scaling of the very top third of the mountain, and that’s almost near completion. The second phase was getting an excavator and ramping up and getting a long-reach track hoe to pull down the middle face of the mountain. The third phase is hauling all of this rock out of here,” Earp said.

The fourth and final phase involves installing rock bolts by drilling horizontally into the formation, but Earp said that won’t start until October after the preliminary design is approved.

“They will be able to perform the rock bolting with traffic on the interstate,” Earp said. “We’ll have a shoulder closure, but traffic will still be normalized and the rock bolting should not impact the traffic.”

Both north and southbound lanes of I-35 remain narrowed to one lane in each direction near the Turner Falls area about 50 miles north of the Red River and the Texas border. Speeds are down to 50 miles per hour, and congestion is likely during weekends and holidays.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.