Little Blue construction project cannot finish this year

Asphalt work 85% complete; new finish date slated for 2024

By Katherine Nettles 

The extensive construction work in Little Blue Creek Canyon along US Highway 50 between Montrose and Gunnison that has been causing delays to travelers for more than three years will not finish this year. The latest prediction is that it will be finished next spring or early summer. In an update to stakeholders on October 11, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced that the project will take a hiatus from the end of December to March, then start up again to attempt completion in the first half of 2024. 

The project was estimated to cost $40 million as of 2022, with $20 million coming from the Colorado Federal Lands Access Program grant and a $20 million CDOT match. 

The contract for the project started in 2020. It has involved extensive rock blasting, road realignment and shoulder widening within a four-mile segment between mile markers 123 and 127 to improve safety on the main route between Gunnison and Montrose. Originally set for completion in November 2022, the finish date has been pushed back three times and was slated to finish by late this fall or early winter after making a great deal of progress this summer and fall. 

Completion in 2023 will not be possible, according to project representatives at the October stakeholder’s meeting. 

Several incidents involving landslide activity and unexpected rock blasting results have waylaid the latest efforts, and crews will work into December before taking a break until March 2024. 

In a review of the extensive work that has been completed, project managers reviewed that crews have cut slope angles down at large curves adjacent to the roadway; stabilized landslide areas with rockery construction; excavated, constructed and shored up large retaining walls; created new culverts and rock embankments; completed channel reconstruction; added concrete overlays, vegetation seeding and more. Asphalt work is now reportedly 85% complete. The Crested Butte News has inquired about an updated cost for the project, and Kathleen Wanatowicz, public information manager for the US 50 Little Blue Creek Canyon Improvement Project, said the budget has not changed. 

“The overall project budget is $40 million. That was our original number, and that has not changed. We have adjusted different line items in the budget, and there have been some change orders but we have maintained the original cost,” said Wanatowicz after checking in with project managers. Regularly scheduled traffic impacts and overnight closures are expected to continue through the end of December, with hourlong delays common during work hours. After a winter break, the plan is to start up again in March. From March through May, crews plan to finish asphalt pavements, guardrail/concrete barrier placements, roadway striping, signing, fencing and mumble (less noisy than rumble) strips. 

There will be alternating one lane daytime traffic and full overnight closures on weekdays, and full openings for two-way traffic Fridays at 5:30 p.m. through Mondays at 8:30 a.m. Vehicle restrictions of no wider than 10 feet and no longer than 80 feet are in place on weekdays, but lifted on weekends, and cycling is no longer permitted through the project.   

More information and up-to-date traffic schedules can be found at https://www.us50info.com.

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