Commissioner pushes for more funding to make NW Colorado roads safer | SteamboatToday.com

Commissioner pushes for more funding to make NW Colorado roads safer

Scott Franz

A long line of traffic waits for crews to clear a semi-truck accident that closed Colorado Highway 131 near Oak Creek for about an hour in February. The road, which served as a detour route for thousands of vehicles that cannot go through Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70, saw several traffic delays.

— The 203-mile detour around the major rockfall event in Glenwood Canyon may have ended months ago, but collateral damage from the prolonged Interstate 70 closure still lingers in Northwest Colorado.

State Transportation Commission Chairwoman Kathy Connell said Friday that all the heavy truck traffic that was forced to take the detour route contributed to the need for emergency structural repairs on the bridge that crosses the Colorado River on Colorado Highway 131 between Wolcott and Bond.

Crews with the Colorado Department of Transportation started on a $6 million repair project of the bridge last week.

The bridge is in need of new decking, new curbs, railing and a full-width asphalt overlay.

Connell said the structure was not designed to handle as much truck traffic as it did for two weeks, when thousands of trucks and vehicles had to use it as an alternate route around Interstate 70.

Work on the bridge is scheduled to continue through August.

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Each truck that crossed the bridge had as much impact as 14 cars, Connell said.

"The trucks did a lot of damage to that bridge," Connell said. "I was able to convince the commission to seek emergency federal funds to get that fixed, but we need to do more than that. If we’re going to use these highways as an emergency detour route, we need to get more money to get these roads in better condition."

The detour route included Colorado highways 131 and 13 and U.S. Highway 40.

According to CDOT traffic counting data collected during one of the first days the detour was in effect, 3,743 vehicles traveled on U.S. Highway 40 near the southern entrance of the city, 46 percent more traffic than the year before.

After seeing Interstate 70 shut down twice due to rockfalls in Glenwood Canyon in recent years, Connell said she is continuing to push for a new funding plan that will better equip the highways near Steamboat Springs for future sudden influxes of heavy traffic.

She suggested the state come up with a "resiliency plan" that would make more funding available to help bring detour routes up to a safer standard.

"If you have an emergency route, you need to have that route prepared to take that impact," she said. "We cannot always be assured that our federal government will give us emergency funds like this to fix the damage. We want these detours to do no harm."

The push for more funding for emergency detour routes in the state was one of several topics discussed Thursday at a Transportation Commission meeting in Steamboat.

Commissioners and CDOT officials traveled from the Front Range to the Yampa Valley on the state’s new Bustang bus.

Connell said the trip allowed commissioners to see firsthand the highway challenges Northwest Colorado still faces, including a lack shoulders in places.

Commissioners also got to see the progress on major road projects, including the overhaul of Colorado Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling.

State wildlife officials recently shared a photograph of a black bear utilizing one of the new wildlife underpass crossings.

Other wild animals that have been photographed safely using the new underpasses include deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10