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Pass work to start this summer

Road improvements to be made on other side of Rabbit Ears

— A $4.8 million road project that has been delayed is anticipated to begin this summer to improve a two-mile stretch of Muddy Pass.

Starting at the junction of U.S. 40 and Colorado 14, the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to widen the road, add a message sign, clear timber and improve access to Muddy Pass Lake.

“We are planning to make the road safer by softening the curves,” said Bob Wilson, a CDOT spokesman. “We are anticipating work will start early this summer.”



Initially, the project was unveiled in the spring of 2001 and work was scheduled to start later that summer.

However, CDOT has had to delay the project to work out some concerns raised by the U.S. Forest Service.



“So many issues came up,” Wilson said.

Because the project called for the removal of trees that tower over the winding road between mileposts 155 and 157, CDOT needed to work with the Forest Service.

Transportation and Forest Service officials worked together to decide which timber will be cleared to help reduce road icing in shaded areas of the road, he said.

Transportation officials also had to work with the Forest Service to determine where CDOT would widen the road and add a passing lane, Wilson said.

Another issue that was raised is the road needed to be constructed to protect the lynx habitat, which was listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2000.

Though a lynx is not known to live in the Routt National Forest, a majority of the forest’s 1.1 million acres has been identified as lynx habitat.

To address this concern, CDOT is planning to construct two tunnels underneath the roadway for lynx and other wildlife.

So far, CDOT has gotten approval for the project by the Federal Highway Administration. Currently, Forest Service officials are reviewing the right of way that will be needed to widen the road and add lanes, Wilson said.

Once the Forest Service approves of the plan, Wilson anticipates CDOT can bid the project out in March and start construction in June.

Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison said the project is long overdue.

“It will be a great improvement from what we have now,” Ellison said.

The reason for the project is because of the number of accidents that have occurred on the pass since 1993.

CDOT calculates accidents on highways in the state based on per-million vehicle miles per travel.

The average accident rate which includes noninjury, injury and fatality accidents for a comparable mountain pass is 2.10 per-million vehicle miles per travel.

Since 1993, Muddy Pass has an accident rate of 4.63 per-million vehicle miles per travel.

Transportation officials said the road’s numerous sharp curves are a reason for the accidents.

Once construction starts, it will be done in two phases.

“Because of the weather, work will be done during two summers,” Wilson said.

The first phase of the project includes grading needed to widen the two-lane highway and slope stabilization. The phase also calls for the installation of drainage infrastructure for the new road and the clearing of trees.

The second phase of the project is scheduled for the summer of 2003.

This phase calls for the construction of a second lane for westbound traffic. The lane is being added for slower-moving vehicles.

The widened road will also provide shoulders, four feet to eight feet, for emergency parking and bicyclists.

A sign will also be installed at the junction of U.S. 40 and Colo. 14 for westbound traffic traveling to Steamboat Springs.

The digital sign, which is similar to what overhangs Interstate 70 near Vail, will provide westbound motorists with road conditions of Muddy and Rabbit Ears passes and if chain laws are in effect.

A turn lane will also be added to improve access to Muddy Pass Lake for westbound traffic.

Wilson anticipates a construction schedule for the project will be completed soon.

CDOT decided to make the improvements to the two-mile stretch of the pass because of a safety report that was completed in 1999.


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