Two years of slow going starting next year
by Mark Reaman
It won’t be easy to get to the closest Target from Crested Butte starting next spring and over the following two years. That’s because a major, two-year road construction project is scheduled to begin on Highway 50 between Gunnison and Montrose in April 2020, with major road closures through the spring of 2022.
The worst of the closures will be in the first year, with only five hours of the road being open every weekday. Even then, those weekday openings will rely on single-lane traffic with a pilot car. Weekend traffic will be two-way starting at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays through Mondays at 8:30 a.m.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is planning to realign the portion of Highway 50 known as Little Blue Canyon—the portion of the highway that is narrow and windy near the entrance to the Arrowhead subdivision about 30 miles east of Montrose. According to a CDOT press release, this project is designed to improve the driver experience and safety, with wider shoulders, better roadway alignment, improved guardrail, better sight lines and more reliable travel times.
“Between 2000 and 2018, 209 crashes occurred in this area, resulting in 58 injuries, 145 instances of property damage and eight fatalities. Improving safety on this section of U.S. 50 is a top priority for the Colorado Department of Transportation,” the statement made clear.
When U.S. 50 is closed, passenger vehicles and small trucks will be able to use State Highway 92, the road that goes from the west end of Blue Mesa Reservoir to Crawford, while trucks and recreation vehicles over 40 feet will need to use I-70 to the north or U.S. 160 to the south.
During the first year of construction, rock blasting, securing rock excavation areas and retaining wall construction will require closing U.S. 50 full-time each weeknight and in four-hour blocks each weekday. These closures are needed to ensure safety of the traveling public and construction workers and to reduce the overall inconvenience to drivers. Daytime closures on the west end of the project corridor will be in place only until the end of July 2020, at which time a single lane of travel will open up between Montrose and Arrowhead Road.
The first year, weekday openings will occur from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m.; from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. So plan those medical appointments carefully. CDOT says there will be no night closures during the winter, approximately mid-October to early-April.
In the second year of construction (May 2021 to April 2022), U.S. 50 will remain open to single-lane travel each weekday and two-way travel on the weekends. On weekdays, drivers should still allow extra time for pilot car escorts through the project area.
Should a third year of work be required, travel restrictions will be similar to those planned for the second year. The project received funding from the Federal Lands Access Program and is being developed, administered and constructed by the Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Highway Division with cooperation from CDOT.