Cottonwood Pass contractor wants highway closed until June

County commissioners to discuss at a future meeting

By Cayla Vidmar

The final dates for the Cottonwood Pass paving project completion are in sight, and the contractor, United Companies, is requesting to keep the highway closed until June 17 to get the work done in the final push of spring, before the project completion date slated for mid-July.

“The original project manager thought it was a one-year project, but none of us thought it was a one year project,” said Gunnison County deputy county manager Marlene Crosby to the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) last week. Crosby said the contractor encountered a lot of water and wet soil, and they got off to a slow start in 2017.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) extended the contract with United Companies for the paving project, but required to have them reopen the road by Memorial Day weekend. “Sometimes we don’t have [Cottonwood Pass] open by Memorial Day,” said Crosby, emphasizing the FHWA did not check with the county prior to setting that opening date.

United Companies is requesting to keep the highway closed until June 17, with the project being complete by the middle of July. “When they start working [this spring], they’re going to work 24 hours a day, on double shifts,” said Crosby. “They’re going to go in and plow as early as April, I believe, but still, getting to the top is going to be a stretch.”

The request for the road closure must be approved by the county commissioners, who decided to make the discussion an agenda item, to allow for public consideration. “I don’t want to create a bad experience for people,” said Crosby.

There are a number of big pieces that still need to be complete for the project, including laying 18 culverts, laying road base cores and paving. Crosby said if they’re doing one-lane closures this spring, her concern is that they would be running equipment over their own new asphalt.

“Your best project, and I’m not an engineer, is paved from the top down and not the bottom up,” Crosby explained, so that the heavy equipment isn’t on the new surface wearing it out.

Jon Roorda, Chaffee County planning manager said, regarding the paving project on the Chaffee County side, “Everything that was supposed to be paved, has been. We have some guardrail and ditch work to do still, but we’re looking to have the highway open on Memorial Day weekend.”

BOCC chairperson Jonathan Houck considered the one-lane closure, and argued that the best way to get a “durable and enduring product” is to allow the road closure. Ultimately, the board decided to wait on making a decision until the request could be discussed as an agenda item at a future meeting.

According to Duane Vandenbusche, local historian and Western Colorado University professor, “This will be the highest paved road over the Continental Divide in the lower 48 states.”

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