Little Blue Creek Canyon highway project underway

*Editors note April 9: Colorado Department of Transportation has now changed the start date of the major road closures to Monday, April 19. For up to date information please go to us50info.com

Closures begin April 12; Gunnison County will not make changes to Kebler openings

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

Construction on the U.S. Highway 50 Little Blue Creek Canyon safety improvement project began Monday, April 5, and roadway closures and detours will begin Monday, April 12. Gunnison County public works will discuss the county’s strategies for managing local traffic impacts, particularly those along Kebler Pass this summer, in a work session tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday. But the general approach will be to open Kebler Pass and maintain the road as normally done with no special allowances for the construction impacts until after they are confirmed and documented.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) project is estimated to be complete by November 4, 2022 and the most impactful construction, roadway and traffic operations are anticipated to take place during the first year. Due to blasting in rockfall areas, extensive roadway closures are scheduled and the expectation is that Kebler Pass will become a relief route for drivers heading to Montrose and Grand Junction.

“We all know that we are expecting traffic,” said Gunnison County public works director Marlene Crosby in a discussion with county commissioners on Tuesday, April 6. There are a couple sections of Kebler that Crosby said she wants to open early to do routine maintenance, but she does not plan to plow the pass early just to get people across.

“That’s not how we do business. You can go bulldoze open a road when you need to, but we always try and monitor that the surrounding area is ready for traffic. Because when we open the road people start pulling off at Horse Ranch and Lost Lake and we get resource damage,” she said.

“Our goal will be to proceed as we always do, to watch the snow and when we can get in to do some maintenance that needs to be done before the roads open we will. But right now it is not our plan to push it early because of Highway 50,” concluded Crosby. The county normally tries to get the pass open before Memorial Day each season, and keep it open through October, weather permitting.

Crosby also addressed the question of doing additional maintenance to the road. She said maintenance always depends on water runoff in the spring. “We will be trying to stay ahead of that, but I don’t anticipate that changing.”

County commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck agreed with the approach. “I think that following your standard operating procedures and your protocols is for the long-term how we maintain the integrity of years and years of work and investment,” he said.

Commissioner Roland Mason asked if there is any available funding to help shore up the maintenance on Kebler that might result from heavier traffic. Crosby said she has spoken with CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, and compensation is not available proactively but reactively. The county has solid documentation on what normal traffic flow looks like in summer, and will be documenting any additional traffic this year. Crosby said if there is significant change that documentation could be submitted for compensation in the future.

Crosby acknowledged that other aspects of managing the heavier traffic and more varied types of traffic need to be worked out on a local level, and requested a separate work session with commissioners for next week. Commissioners also passed a resolution formalizing public works’ authority to temporarily close

county roads for emergency purposes, in anticipation of heavy traffic on Kebler.

According to CDOT, travel impacts will be consistent throughout the first year of the project and motorists should plan for single lane closures, full roadway closures, reduced speed limits and narrow roads. Significant delays are anticipated. If there is an emergency closure of Interstate 70, full closures on this project will be reduced.

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