State Route 4, a major route to Vermont and a major north-south highway through Washington County, was expected to remain closed until later this week after a massive rock slide Monday morning.
There initially were concerns that a vehicle was buried in the rubble but after a search by police and other emergency responders, authorities finally determined that nobody was injured when the huge slabs of rock — some the size of a small house — fell from an outcropping into the busy road.
“It could have been much worse,” said Washington County Public Safety Director William Cook.
The incident occurred near the intersection with Route 22, not far from the Great Meadows state prison in Comstock, about halfway between the villages of Fort Ann and Whitehall.
DOT officials said late Monday that a contractor has been hired to remove up to 1,000 cubic yards of debris, and work will go on around the clock until the road can reopen.
“The highway is expected to reopen later this week,” DOT officials said in a news release.
Officials also said it’s unknown how much road damage will need to be repaired before the highway can reopen. About 200 feet of roadway was covered by rubble.
The cleanup was slowed while state engineers assessed the stability of the slope above the road. What caused the rock to slide into the highway is currently undetermined, but there was speculation that rain loosened the soil around the rocks.
The slide happened about 9:05 a.m. in a rural area where the highway passes along a steep slope, about 60 miles northeast of Schenectady.
State Department of Transportation officials said separate detours were put in place for cars and heavy trucks.
The boulders that tumbled into the road were so large they towered over workers, and were being broken apart with jackhammers and excavating equipment to be hauled away, authorities said.
Initially, authorities were concerned that a sport utility vehicle might have been trapped underneath the rubble, based on a report from a motorist who saw the slide happen in her rearview mirror. Sensitive infrared camera equipment was rushed to the scene, and a state police helicopter with heat-sensing equipment was dispatched. However, as the area was slowly cleared, emergency workers said they found no evidence, such as fluids or a smell of gasoline, of a vehicle in the debris.
Route 4 is a major route between the Hudson Falls-Glens Falls area and the Whitehall-Rutland, Vt., area. It carries 8,000 to 9,000 vehicles per day, with a higher-than-average percentage being heavy commercial trucks, according to a 2005 study by the Adirondack/Glens Falls Transportation Council.