U.S. 40 chip seal project to continue through end of month; work impacting traffic slated to finish next week | SteamboatToday.com

U.S. 40 chip seal project to continue through end of month; work impacting traffic slated to finish next week

CDOT officials discussed delaying the project during the extended I-70 closure but opted to push forward to get the project finished this year

A flagger is surrounded by vehicles Tuesday afternoon while directing traffic on U.S. Highway 40 just east of downtown Steamboat Springs as part of a chip seal project being done by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Traffic along U.S. 40 has been heavy since mudslides closed Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, and traffic has been detoured through Steamboat, with delays exacerbated by the ongoing chip seal project. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday to clarify Justin Kuhn’s quote to say chip-sealing is one of the least expensive work items they do.

With a closed Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon forcing countless long-haul truckers, families towing campers and average commuters to reroute through downtown Steamboat Springs, the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads across town has locals scratching their heads.

River Road through the Brooklyn neighborhood Monday more closely resembled an elongated parking lot than an actual street, as drivers sought relief to delays on U.S. Highway 40.

Mike Mordi, interim public works director for Routt County, said he has heard several stories about large trucks going through the Brooklyn neighborhood and others that are taking dirt roads in the county to get around Steamboat’s traffic.

The main question for residents stuck behind the wheel: Why is the Colorado Department of Transportation still doing the chip seal project on U.S. 40 through town amid all the added traffic?

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“Chip-sealing is probably one of the least expensive work items we do,” said Justin Kuhn, CDOT’s resident engineer based in Craig. “You think it is simple, but the temperatures are very (sensitive).”

Traffic hits a snag along U.S. Highway 40 at Anglers Drive on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Kuhn said there were conversations within CDOT about postponing the project, and they did shut down operations in the afternoon during some of the shorter I-70 closures earlier this summer.

But when the extended I-70 closure came — which still doesn’t have an anticipated reopening date — Kuhn said crews were not in a good position to stop work, and if they did, it might not start back up again until next summer

“It left us with the option of either having to push forward and get the rest of it chipped to even it all out, or we were going to have to shut down,” Kuhn said.

If the project would have been shut down, the contractors working it would quickly leave the area to take on other projects, Kuhn said, and he would be lucky to get them back before October, which is too late in the year for a chip seal project.

Kuhn said crews plan to finish chipping the road by Wednesday before starting to coat the road Thursday, which will continue next week. Kuhn said much of the impact on traffic should be done by the end of next week.

Crews will paint lane lines, crosswalks and other street marking the week after, but this isn’t expected to have major effects on traffic as the work can be done at night. The whole project should be done by the end of the month, Kuhn said, which is about a month ahead of schedule.

The project started in June at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass and has slowly worked its way 14 miles to where it ends when U.S. 40 meets Third Street in downtown Steamboat.

CDOT tries to chip seal a new roadway within five years of it being built. The chip seal is really meant to extend the life of the road, adding a layer that dampens the affects of snowplows, studded snow-tires and large trucks with chains.

The chip seal process starts with sweeping the road to get it as clean as possible before a layer of oil is sprayed on the road, with chips then put over that. The process requires temperatures to be at least 70 degrees and rising, which is why doing the work at night isn’t an option in the mountains. It’s also why crews are starting work later in the day and why work could not simply be moved to later in the year.

After the chips are placed, crews drive over the road with rollers to press the chips into the oil to ensure there is a good hold. The road continues to cure for about five days, Kuhn said, a process further aided by cars driving over it.

The excess chips are then swept off the road before a fog coat is applied, which provides more protection and makes the road look new, Kuhn said. After that, the only thing left to do is paint the striping.

The U.S. 40 project has been in design since last summer, and Kuhn said CDOT always struggles to fit all of its projects in such a short working season in the mountains.

Elise Thatcher, spokesperson for CDOT’s Region 3, which includes much of Northwest Colorado, said each region prioritizes projects in the order of importance, and they often take years to plan.

“There are a series of ways that CDOT is guided and steps that we take to make sure that we’re doing projects that are needed,” Thatcher said.

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