A ruptured low-pressure gas line caused quite a stir in eastern Boulder County on Tuesday, shutting down U.S. 36 in both directions for several hours and, according to one resident, stinking up Superior for most of the day.

A third-party construction worker struck the line sometime Tuesday morning while working near South 88th Street and U.S. 36, according to Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz.

Xcel crews arrived on scene and began working on the problem around 11:30 a.m., Stutz said, eventually shutting off the gas just before 2:30 p.m.

U.S. 36 was closed in both directions between Flatirons Crossing Drive in Broomfield on the east side and Louisville's McCaslin Boulevard on the west while crews worked to resolve the issue.

Officials originally estimated the closure would stretch through rush hour.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Ashley Mohr said the agency was able to get the word out quickly, using variable message signs on the side of U.S. 36 to urge motorists to use alternate routes. She felt those efforts helped keep traffic backups to a minimum.

"People seemed to disperse pretty well, actually," Mohr said. "There was maybe a mile on each side of slowdowns."

The leak caused complications for commuters and area residents alike.

Boulder resident Dave Taylor, a Daily Camera technology columnist, said he got on U.S. 36 eastbound around 1:30 p.m. on his way to Denver and ended up getting stuck in a traffic jam created by the closure for almost an hour.

Taylor said his day revolved around traffic jams, starting on the Diagonal Highway in the morning. After he was able to exit U.S. 36 at McCaslin and navigate around the afternoon closure, he got back on the highway east of Broomfield and hit a second round of traffic near Federal Boulevard.

"Today, all in all, is probably the worst traffic I've seen in Colorado. It was just jam after jam after jam," said Taylor, originally from California. "Even given all the frustration and everything, I would rather have us all be safe than have an explosion on the highway."

Superior resident Jan Whitt said she could smell natural gas in her Rock Creek neighborhood most of the day.

Whitt said she called the Xcel emergency hotline as soon as she detected the gas outside her home around 10 a.m., but the operator was unable to give her any information about a leak. She called back several times as the problem persisted, but said Xcel still offered no information -- and she was unable to find out the source of the smell until seeing media reports about the highway closure.

"I talked to their people no fewer than five times and at no point did they know anything, which is terrifying for people in the community, especially people with small children," Whitt said, adding that her neighborhood smelled like gas until at least 5 p.m. "You don't know if the problem is being repaired or if it will be repaired -- and you just expect more from Xcel."

Stutz said it is not exactly clear when the line was ruptured, but Xcel crews worked diligently and quickly to address the problem once they were notified.

He said it's possible the pipe was leaking gas and creating an odor in the Superior area by 10 a.m., and noted that even once the flow was shut off hours later, some leftover gas may have leaked and the smell may have lingered in the area into the late afternoon.

"You can appreciate we need to shut these things down in a safe, reliable manner... and make sure we impact as few people as possible," Stutz said. "We believe we responded to it an appropriate amount of time.

"We believe we took the appropriate action."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or rubinoj@dailycamera.com.