US 50 Little Blue Creek Canyon work will continue through summer and fall

Daytime closures to clean up unplanned rockfall 

By Katherine Nettles

As anyone driving to meetings, appointments, or otherwise traveling across the region to Montrose and beyond is aware, the construction work and road closures along US 50 between Gunnison and Montrose in the Little Blue Creek Canyon resumed this spring, and while there is no projected end in sight, the hope is that work will be completed by late fall or early winter 2023.

Work on the four-mile highway improvement project, which was originally scheduled to finish last fall, resumed in early March after a winter hiatus with just a few days’ notice from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). The project is straightening and widening the roadway to improve driver safety in the canyon.

According to Kathleen Wanatowicz, public information manager for the project, crews are currently focused on taking care of “an unplanned rockfall incident” that happened late last fall that “caused an extended delay” but had to be left until spring. The rockfall reportedly occurred in an area away from the main thoroughfare, but as continued rock blasting and clearing has resumed this spring, crews are getting closer to that rockfall area and need to address its cleanup and stabilization. “That is going to require some daytime closures,” explained Wanatowicz, citing safety, access and visibility reasons. 

The FHA and CDOT are contractually allowing project managers two-hour daytime closures on three separate days to finish the cleanup. “We are going to be cleaning up the rock on three different occasions,” said Wanatowicz.

The first of those closures was scheduled for Tuesday, April 11, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., but the road did not reopen until after 7:30 p.m. due to unforeseen complications, and then one lane was opened only long enough to clear the traffic before the overnight closure took place. The next two closures aimed at finishing the cleanup have not yet been determined, but project managers are required to give the public 48 hours’ notice.

Crews are also doing retaining wall work throughout the canyon to support the stability of the roadway.

Wanatowicz said the estimated project cost of $40 million, shared by the FHA and CDOT has not changed from its original projection, even with the additional time needed. She predicted construction work will not finish until at least October or November 2023. 

“Work will continue through summer and fall,” she said. “We hope to announce a projected finish date later in the season.”

 Current traffic impacts include:

• alternating one-way lane daytime closures Mondays 8:30 a.m.- 7:30 p.m. 

• alternating one-way lane daytime closures Tuesday – Friday 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

• full roadway closures through the night Monday – Thursday 7:30 p.m.– 6:30 a.m. 

• open two-way traffic with no delays from Friday 5:30 p.m. – Monday 8:30 a.m. 

More information can be found at www.us50info.com

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