US 50 construction expected to be finished in November

Major blasting has caused some delays

By Katherine Nettles

It’s construction season, and work on US 50 in Little Blue Creek Canyon for a roadway safety improvement project between Gunnison and Montrose has resumed with a schedule that is expected to remain intact throughout the summer and fall seasons. In a stakeholder meeting on Tuesday, May 2, officials discussed the project details and said the nighttime closures and daytime alternating traffic patterns will remain but that they have cleared the major hurdles and expect the project to be complete by November. 

In a review of the work completed so far, project engineer Ian Johnson with the Federal Highway Administration said there are five total areas where widening the roadway includes reducing canyon wall height and installing geosynthetic reinforced soil (GRS) abutments and walls for stability. 

In some cases, those walls are placed where the roadway has had to first be lifted and widened to improve visibility. One such area was completed last year, two more were completed this spring and two more remain.  

Johnson reviewed one major challenge at “curve eight,” also named dead man’s curve, where the canyon was cut back from a massive sheer wall in stages to establish a bench that has been reduced and still needs to be excavated to improve sight visibility. During a scheduled April 11 daytime closure, CDOT had planned for a 2.5 hour period to blast through and reduce the remaining bench, but the blast carried down an unanticipated “sea of rock that has a road underneath it.” Johnson said it took about six hours to clear the road enough for one lane of traffic, which caused a major delay in reopening but “we got a good bite out of that bench.” 

The project team performed one last “production shot” at night to avoid the same traffic delay, which went well. 

“Where we’re at right now is the contractor is still removing debris in front of that final face; we’re not able to see that final face until they get that debris cleared out,” said Johnson. If any large boulders get uncovered at the bottom, there may be another small blast required. 

Concurrent to the blasting and wall stabilization tests at the remaining GRS areas is rock reconstruction for a 350-foot-long, nine-foot-tall retaining wall. 

Johnson came to the project in 2022 and said he looks forward to getting it finished.

Meanwhile, officials said they will try to reduce traffic congestion in the canyon this summer, and will post construction signs throughout the state to notify people in advance of this work and associated delays or closures. 

Nathan Jean, an engineer with CDOT, said CDOT is doing all it can to prevent mudslides or rockslides in Glenwood Canyon in particular to avoid detouring more traffic from Interstate 70 to US 50. 

A couple of Arrowhead Ranch residents in the meeting expressed frustration with the lack of access to their properties off the highway between Gunnison and Montrose during closure times and the scheduled closures preventing them from accessing regional public transportation, such as CDOT’s Bustang Outrider that goes between Montrose and Gunnison and between Gunnison and the Front Range. Project officials said there wasn’t much they could do to address that aside from getting the project completed.

Project team spokesperson Kathleen Wanatowicz stated that they anticipate the same traffic schedule of alternating daytime, and then nighttime closures, throughout the summer. “We are going to have a really great summer. We are going to get a lot of the remaining work done, and be wrapped up in November,” she concluded.

Up to date detour information can be found at www.us50info.com.

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