Pass is closed on this side now, and will be closed all the way next summer
by Toni Todd
The long-awaited paving of Cottonwood Pass will have to wait a little longer.
“It is absolutely not open,” said Gunnison County director of public works Marlene Crosby of the high-elevation pass.
According to Crosby, United Companies, the contractor paving the pass, is working to re-align some sections, widen and re-grade others, add culverts and reshape embankments along the 12.5-mile stretch that is currently unpaved on the Gunnison County side of the pass. It’s a huge job with much more work to do. A recent United Companies’ video projects they’ll complete the project in the fall of 2018.
Crosby said the Gunnison County side of the pass would again be completely closed through next summer to all forms of transportation, including all motorized vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. “It’ll be just like last year,” Crosby added.
Currently, travelers can reach Cottonwood’s summit from the Chaffee County side. Next summer, that will not be possible. Chaffee County was awarded a Federal Land Access Grant to re-pave and make repairs to their side, too. “Initially, it wasn’t going to be funded for next year but the Feds looked at the situation and decided it made sense,” Crosby said, for the re-paving to occur on the Chaffee County side at the same time as the paving project being completed on the Gunnison County side.
“They are moving along at a fast pace,” said Chaffee County planning manager John Roorda, who expects requests for bids to go out “in early, early spring,” and work to begin shortly thereafter.
“We’ll re-pave from Rodeo Road in Buena Vista to the top of the pass, where we’ll meet the Gunnison project,” Roorda said. There’s also a section of guardrail to replace, which Roorda described as, “collapsing into the abyss.” They’ll widen the road in that area in order to replace that feature.
“Our plan is to get it all done while Gunnison has the pass closed,” Roorda said, with completion of the project also expected by fall 2018.
Roorda said Chaffee County is working with the local recreation community to provide various access points via road crossings to popular trails throughout the summer, but the road itself will be closed.
When Cottonwood Pass finally opens, it will feature brand new pavement from Taylor Park to Buena Vista, topping out at 12,126 feet above sea level. There will also be several new realignments of the road, which along with the paving, will shorten the commute time through the Saguache Range.
“It has the potential to completely change how people travel through these mountains,” said Roorda.
Cottonwood Pass will be the fourth-highest paved road in North American. Mt. Evans Scenic Byway takes first place, with a summit of 14,130 feet. Next comes Pike’s Peak Road, at 14,115, and Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park at 12,183. What’s unique about Cottonwood is that its summit marks a spot along the Continental Divide. All water flowing from that line west leads the Pacific Ocean, and all water flowing east of that line makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean.