Infrastructure work could close Elk Avenue in summer 2027

Time to do a complete overhaul of downtown?

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

Crested Butte town staff and council are starting to anticipate a major replacement and renovation of Elk Avenue and some underground infrastructure in the near future. It would be a major project that could come as soon as 2027 and it would probably result in a complete shutdown of Elk Avenue for the summer season.

The idea is to replace the existing sewer main that runs under Elk Avenue and at the same time completely renovate the Elk Avenue streetscape. Planning for the major project is anticipated to begin in 2025 with the actual construction possibly coming in the summer of 2027. Much of Elk Avenue would be closed during the construction project that would take several months to complete.

While not yet at a critical point, Crested Butte public works director Shea Earley said no one wants that sewer infrastructure to fail with the town having to jump into emergency mode. “The main trigger for replacement of the line is its age, which is approximately 50 years old,” he said. “Additionally, the capacity of the line is something that staff continues to monitor with its annual inspections. We have seen the high-water mark on the interior of the pipe starting to encroach into the upper 50% of capacity. Although this does not necessitate the need to replace the pipe with a larger pipe at this time, it does provide some context to the discussion on timing and prioritization.”

Earley said this pipe is one of the more heavily used pipes within the town’s system. Although the department’s preventive maintenance efforts extend the life of the underground infrastructure, he pointed out that “in the end, everything fails. With this specific piece of infrastructure, I think you will see the town taking the approach of replacement prior to failure rather than waiting for it to fail and then replace.”

That project would not be simple and without impacts. Earley said it would, “most likely require a full shut down of Elk Avenue for the summer season; however, with the limited information that we have available to us at this time, I would not exclude the ability to keep a portion of Elk and/or the north sidewalk open for a portion of the project. 

If a complete redesign of the streetscape is proposed, then that will more than likely necessitate the full shut down of Elk Avenue.”

Council is discussing how to piggyback on a complete renovation of the Elk Avenue streetscape as part of the major infrastructure project. (See story page 13).

Earley emphasized that the details of how the construction would impact Elk have not been determined. “At this point, all of the south sidewalk and brick area, as well as the entire southern two-thirds of the road would be directly affected by the replacement of the main,” he said. “Additionally, and this is where more information is needed, the town would look at upgrading services along the pipeline. The extent of this work is a detail that needs to get hashed out, but I anticipate that there will be some improvements to services along the main that would potentially increase the footprint of the improvements. Regardless, considering the amount of disturbed area, the project will minimally warrant a complete reconstruction of the street and southern sidewalk.”

Earley said the town will try and keep several of the crossroads open during construction. However, the number of intersections that the town would keep open will depend on scope and the associated costs. “In terms of timing, 2027 is the first opportunity that we would have to do this work,” Earley said. “As this is budget season, we are currently analyzing the town’s Enterprise Fund cash flow which will inform the timing of subsequent capital improvements in the coming years.”

The town is not jumping into the Elk Avenue abyss without a lot of thought and planning. “As we develop the project, we will begin to vet these impacts and determine if an alternative method and/or temporary construction measures can be implemented to try and deflect some of these impacts that will be placed on the residents and businesses of Crested Butte,” Earley promised. “Obviously these measures will come with a price. So, as design is developed, staff will begin to weigh those additional costs for mitigation versus the impacts to residents and businesses. The goal, as always, will be to perform a successful project that minimizes both the cost of project and the impacts to the community.”

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