An Oregon man died in Billings after being injured in a highway project west of Cody.
A falling rock hit Shane Powell in the head, and he was taken off life support at St. Vincent’s last Thursday. The project he was working on may save lives in the future.
Wyoming’s Department of Transportation started the million dollar rock removal project west of Cody in early September.
Their goal is to remove more than ten thousand cubic yards of rock.
They’ve been blasting, prying boulders with air pillows, and sometimes knocking the rocks off with a small tool.
WYDOT spokesman Cody Beers explained, “This is a project that’s been driven largely by the public and public comments.”
Beers said people who travel from Cody to Wapiti on this highway know rocks can fall from the rock faces anytime. But, he says locals feel the rock-fall has increased lately.
Beers said, “We’ve had three or four projects like this over the last thirty or forty years, where we clean out the loose rocks along this area. We’re also removing some rocks that are overhanging the highway.”
The experts who do this kind of work are actually employees of an Oregon contractor named Triptych Construction.
The danger from the rock-fall is so great, traffic is stopped on both sides for twenty minute waits, to allow the rock scaling to continue.
The project was less than days old, when an employee was injured. The accident happened just west of the tunnels at the end of the canyon outside Cody, on September 14th.
Beers said, “Somebody yelled ‘Rock!’. He ran, he was hit in the head with the rock on his hard hat. He was taken to Billings, where he died as a result of his injuries suffered in the rock fall incident.”
Beers added although the work is dangerous, these kinds of accidents are rare.
He extended condolences to Powell’s wife and children.
He said, “Very unfortunate incident that we’re all saddened about.”
Beers said the project will continue into November. But, even after all the rock removal, he says motorists should still be aware."
He pointed out. “It’s dangerous when you drive through canyons, so we always try to tell people to slow down, look for rocks, be aware that rocks can be on the road at any time."
Beers shared Powell had to be in the rock-fall path to do his job. He said the workers have to climb the rock walls using ropes.