County looks to smooth out Kebler Pass

Crested Butte looks at paving plan
An additional eight miles of Kebler Pass could be paved as soon as next summer pending approval of a grant submitted by the Gunnison County Public Works department, despite concern over the project from the Town of Crested Butte.

The county plans to submit a $500,000 grant request to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) by December 1 to pay for maintenance work on Kebler Pass, according to Gunnison County’s Public Works director Marlene Crosby.
"We’re looking for dollars to do some kind of hard surfacing because we have not been able to maintain the road in a manner we believe to be safe," Crosby says.
Crosby says the grant money will pay for supplies needed to chip seal approximately eight miles of Kebler Pass. Although the exact locations have not been determined, Crosby says the eight miles would be spread out along the pass in areas that require excessive maintenance.
Kebler Pass road is 29 miles long and serves as Crested Butte’s main link to Paonia and Aspen during the summer. Approximately three miles of the pass, which is part of the West Elk Scenic Byway, is already paved.
The county is pursuing the grant because of increasing costs of maintaining the road and related safety issues, Crosby says. Gunnison County spent almost $131,000 on magnesium chloride for Kebler Pass last summer, Crosby says, noting the chemical’s price has doubled in the last year. Road departments apply magnesium chloride to control dust and erosion on unimproved dirt or gravel roads.
Crosby says the improvements will help to minimize the amount of magnesium chloride used annually without creating an unsafe dust bowl. Putting magnesium chloride on Kebler Pass requires a six-man crew over a month’s time. "We need something that is a longer-term fix," Crosby says.
Traffic concerns on the pass have also prompted the grant proposal. Crosby says the county has struggled to keep the road in good condition because the chloride often wears out before the end of the summer, resulting in dangerous conditions for increased traffic.
Traffic on Kebler Pass has increased over the past three years with an influx of freight trucks, according to Mt. Crested Butte police officer Brad Phelps. Phelps says he has witnessed an increase of construction workers from the North Fork Valley during the summer. He says the pass experiences a rush hour on Fridays.
Phelps noted improvements to other roads have proved troublesome. "The improvements to Taylor [Canyon Road] have increased speed, and decreased safety," Phelps says.
Crosby says speed is of concern and notes some of the tight corners and steeper grades develop washboards by the end of July. Phelps agrees speeding is a problem and says, "Kebler Pass has always been a racetrack."
In a memo dated November 20, Crosby requested a letter of support for the grant from the Town of Crested Butte.
During a special meeting on Monday, November 26, the Crested Butte Town Council discussed the request and decided to take no action. Crosby was not present during the meeting. Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz said it was the first time the council had heard of such plans and wondered why the Town was not included in preliminary discussions.
"This is an issue that needs to be discussed, and I don’t know why we are just now hearing about it," Bernholtz said. "This came out of nowhere."
Crosby says Gunnison County has been looking for ways to pay for road and bridge improvements and felt this grant was appropriate because Kebler Pass qualified.
Bernholtz said additional information about the project was needed prior to the Town signing a letter of support.
"We’re not for or against (improvements to Kebler); we’re just not aware of it, and we would like more time to digest it and look at the impacts on our community," Bernholtz said at the special Town Council meeting. Crosby would not comment on the council’s decision not to provide a letter of support.
Town Council member Leah Williams said she was concerned with paving Kebler Pass because it could encourage more traffic on Whiterock Avenue, where the pass road ends. "It’s a dangerous place to go," Williams said.
Town manager Susan Parker told the council that chip seal was more cost-efficient and the county was only asking the Town for a letter of support and not to be a partner.
"They will most likely pursue the grant with or without your support," Parker said.
Parker said she wouldn’t support the project without an agreement from the County that would mitigate the costs involved with additional traffic into town.
Crosby says the grant would be awarded in the spring and construction could begin next summer, depending on traffic on the pass and county resources.
Crosby also says the County does not have long-term plans to pave the entire pass, as the project would take a significant amount of time and resources.
"This is not what this project is about. It’s about problem solving and addressing immediate maintenance needs," Crosby said. Crosby added that the County does not plan to snowplow additional sections of the pass.
Crosby also notes the improvements are not intended to benefit any potential mining operations that may occur on Mt. Emmons. She says the use of roads by a mining operation would be subject to the County’s planning process and would require improvements beyond the scope of this work.
"We hope to use the grant money to make travel on the pass safer for locals and visitors alike," Crosby says.
While the Town Council took no action on the letter of support for the Kebler grant, they did agree to support the County in its efforts to secure a second grant, which would provide improvements to the intersection of Ohio Creek and Highway 135.
For that project, the County is requesting $500,000 to realign the intersection and include turn lanes. Gunnison County has been working the Colorado Department of Transportation since 1991 to address the intersection. CDOT has committed $100,000 to the project, which will include acquisition of a right-of-way along Ohio Creek Road.
A traffic study and preliminary design work has also been done. A park and ride facility will be part of the design, but not funded by the grant. Crosby said the Ohio Creek intersection project would take priority over the Kebler Pass project because of the immediate safety issues involved with intersection and DOLA’s requirement to prioritize projects.

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