Under and overpasses proposed to increase safety on Colo. 9 in Grand County | SteamboatToday.com

Under and overpasses proposed to increase safety on Colo. 9 in Grand County

— A group of Grand County residents wants to spend $46 million, primarily from state funds, to make safer a stretch of road that is heavily used by Routt County residents and visitors.

The Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 Committee is raising $9.2 million for the $46 million proposed project.

Colorado Highway 9 between Kremmling and Silverthorne is heavily used by Routt County residents and visitors going to and from Denver. Those who have driven the road likely have noticed animal carcasses on the shoulder.

"I've hit two deer on that road," said Steamboat Springs City Council member Walter Magill, who sits on the Transportation Planning Region Committee, which met Thursday in Steamboat to hear six proposals for projects that are seeking state funding. The committee will rank the projects and share its priorities with the state, which then will appropriate $125 million for projects that involve cost sharing.

Among the projects being proposed is $1.2 million to put in a stoplight and make other safety improvements at Downhill Drive and Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat. Routt County is asking for $15 million to redo a 5.2-mile stretch of Routt County Road 14.

Colorado Department of Transportation Region 3 Director Dave Eller said Thursday that the state knows of $200 million worth of projects that are being proposed for the next fiscal year using Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships funding, known as RAMP.

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"I know we're not going to get them all," Eller said.

The idea behind RAMP funding is that project costs are shared with public and private groups that identify the projects as a priority.

On Colo. 9, there have been 191 people hurt in accidents on the highway from 1993 to 2012, according to CDOT. There have been 14 fatal accidents with 16 deaths. From 2007 to 2011, wild animals were involved in 35 percent of the accidents. In a recent eight-year period, there have been 455 wildlife deaths, according to CDOT.

Wildlife frequently crosses the highway because the primary water source, the Blue River, is on one side and the winter range is on the other.

To make the highway safer, Grand County officials have proposed putting in fencing along both sides of a 10.6-mile stretch of the road. The fencing would funnel the deer, elk, moose and other wildlife to two overpasses and five underpasses.

"Almost daily, we witness collisions between wildlife, cars and trucks out on Highway 9," Blue Valley Ranch Manager Perry Handyside said in a news release. "We decided we had to step forward and help."

The ranch, which is owned by billionaire investment banker Paul T. Jones II, recently announced that in addition to the $945,000 already donated to the project, it would give another $4 million. Now the community has to come up with the remaining $4.3 million to reach the 20 percent in matching funds required by the RAMP program.

Other safety improvements would be made, including 8-foot shoulders that would allow for a bike lane. The highway would be designed to allow for speeds of 65 mph.

"This is essentially a shovel-ready project," Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner said.

Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 Committee member Mike Ritschard said Thursday that he was not sure whether it would ask Routt County groups to consider helping fund the project. Ritschard said Routt County school districts use the road when taking students to games and on trips, and the committee likely would ask the districts to submit letters of support.

"We're going to ask for that type of support," Ritschard said.

Kathy Connell, a Steamboat CDOT commissioner, said she was a fan of the project.

"Many of our tourists as well as our employees drive that highway," Connell. "Safe passage for all of us is extremely important."

Routt County Commissioner Steve Ivancie, who sits on the Transportation Planning Region Committee, said he was supportive of any project in Northwest Colorado that improves safety and access to Routt County.

Despite hitting two deer on the highway, Magill said he thought the $46 million price tag was a lot, and he was not sure whether it would be the No. 1 priority of the Transportation Planning Region Committee.

"It's hard to argue against safety," Magill said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

CDOT projects in Routt County

U.S. Highway 40 Elk River bridge

Project: Replace existing bridge on U.S. 40 over the East Fork of the Elk River with one that is wider and better accommodates the flow of the river. The project is about 7 miles west of Steamboat Springs.

Benefits: Increased shoulder widths, sight distance, snow storage, and with a deeper foundation, the bridge will be better suited to withstand flooding.

Cost: $3.1 million

Work: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Fridays through November

Online: http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/us40elkriver

Colorado Highway 131 culvert repairs

Project: Repair five culverts in Routt County between mile markers 36.42 and 37.70.

Benefits: Improved drainage for Colo. 131 and the surrounding area.

Cost: $2 million

Work: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays from June to August

Source: CDOT