Highway 168 rockslide closure extended

FRESNO, Calif.

Workers spent Tuesday using heavy equipment to clear the area. And while doing that, they discovered the damage is worse than they originally thought.

A large tool designed to tear apart boulders was put to good use along Highway 168 Tuesday. So was this excavator, which sent rocks and other debris tumbling down the steep terrain.

Jose Camarena said, "It's a work in progress and the evaluations are on a day to day basis."

Caltrans spokesperson, Jose Camarena says when they first closed the road on March 27th -- the initial estimate to reopen the "four lane" was April 11th. But, with layers upon layers of heavy rocks, and the discovery of a crack on the hillside measuring more than one foot wide and thirty feet across, Camarena says they've added an additional week to the $500 thousand project.

Camarena said, "We're working from the top down and making sure all the lose material, all the dangerously lose and unstable material is removed as quickly as possible."

Motorists are still being told to take either Auberry or Tollhouse Road around the rock slide.

The detour cut into Ruben Gomez's day, by adding an extra 15 minutes on his trip to Shaver for work. "I'm gonna figure out and try to go a different route and hopefully get up the mountain."

Residents like Sherry Stivers of Auberry say the closure is inconvenient for locals, but great for nearby businesses. "Tollhouse store gets a lot more business cause that's the other detour and the Ponderosa."

And while Caltrans says they're working quickly to get things back to normal, they warn, it may take even longer than expected.

Camarena said, "So yes it is probable that we could extend the closure if we see something that we didn't expect at first."

A geologist was brought in Tuesday to advise crews on the project.

Caltrans officials says once they remove more rocks, they will likely start blasting the hillside sometime before this Friday.

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