Little Blue Creek Canyon road work project has begun

Heavier traffic expected on Kebler Pass Road this summer

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

The major Highway 50 construction project between Montrose and Gunnison began this week, with some one-lane closures in place and full roadway closures starting next week. Meanwhile, Gunnison County is planning for heavier traffic on Kebler Pass Road as travelers take one of the possible (though not official) detours that will begin when conditions allow. The county will likely set restrictions this summer for vehicles in towing capacity, length and weight on a road that was not designed for heavy commercial or recreational vehicle use. Public Works will send those formal recommendations to the county in the coming weeks.
Kathleen Wanatowicz, public information manager for the Little Blue project, confirmed on Tuesday, “The project has started; we do have some one-lane closures in the area. The full roadway closures will begin the week of April 19th – due to weather conditions.” Extensive closure periods and long delays are expected throughout the summer.

County commissioners held a work session with public works director Marlene Crosby and operations manager Sparky Casebolt on Tuesday, April 13 to discuss possible mitigation measures to protect travellers along Kebler this summer, and to protect the narrow, mostly gravel road from damage.

Crosby said she has spent time looking at and even measuring RVs around the county that pull boats or jeeps or other around-town vehicles. In one case, a setup with a pickup truck that pulls a trailer that pulls a fishing boat added up to a length more than 50 feet that surprised even the vehicle owners, she reported.

Commissioners discussed possible recommendations from public works officials on what limits would make the road safer. There are areas of Kebler where the road width is quite narrow, 11 feet or so, and tight corners might require larger rigs to have an escort vehicle in front.

“There is a difference between drivers who are trained and drug-tested and qualified to drive,” commented Crosby regarding large trucks and trailers, compared with someone who is not trained and may not even realize how long their setup is with add-ons like luggage racks and recreational equipment.

The commissioners and public works representatives discussed restricting vehicles to a total length of 50 feet, a 15-ton weight limit and no triple pulling. Everyone agreed that restricting weight to 34,000 pounds would still allow some contractor trucks, some freight trucks, box trucks and livestock transport as well as gravel hauling. It would also allow for trailers 30 feet or smaller.
“But not necessarily those heavily loaded commercial trucks,” said commissioner Roland Mason.

“That road isn’t built for commercial activity, it’s just not. And we have to be mindful of that,” said commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck.

County vehicles doing road maintenance and repairs will be exempt from those restrictions, however, but will continue using flags, lights and/or buffer vehicles when exceeding those limits as they normally do.

Crosby and Casebolt both said there is a need to consider a longer-term plan at some point as well.

“I know it’s not part of the discussion today, but in the future with increased traffic,” Casebolt said, it might be needed. “Last year we had a tractor-trailer rig that tried to come over in early November and got stuck up there and ended up closing the road for a day. It’s something to look at for the future,” he said.

Crosby and Casebolt said they would fine-tune the Kebler length and weight restriction concept for this summer, and hope to have a resolution ready for commissioners to consider in about two weeks.

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