Little Blue Creek Canyon has a makeover scheduled starting Monday April 19 about 30 miles from Montrose on the east end and Gunnison on the west.
Colorado Department of Transportation and project managers held a tour of the project area on Friday April 9 for stakeholders to have a better understanding of the project called “Little Blue.”
Senator Don Coram was in attendance, along with Transportation Commissioner Kathy Hall, and David Coker, chairman of a governmental affairs committee in Montrose committed to the project.
Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Chief of Engineering Curtis Scott and American Civil Constructors Mountain West (ACC) Project Manager John Butcher spearheaded the tour with CDOT members to explain the details of Little Blue.
Here’s what to know
Location: Mile points 123—127
Closures: Full roadway closures will be Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Full roadway closures will occur through the night Monday–Thursday 7:30 p.m. – 6:30 a.m.
Plan your travel around the opening windows and be prepared to queue at designated areas.
Weekends will allow for full passageway with no restrictions or obstructions from the construction crew.
Rumble strips are being put in place to slow drivers down as they approach the sharp turns.
When open during the week, the road could be brought down to one lane, such as near the bridge on the west end of the project
Immediate impacts of construction
The largest effect on travelers will be the road closures, so Montrose Resident Engineer Raelene Shelly suggests planning a drive accordingly.
“Allowing extra time to take the local detour route or extra time to wait out a closure are the best options for avoiding the closures,” said Shelly.
While detours for closure are being offered, project team members and CDOT have to take into consideration the possible influx of traffic on the alternate routes.
“For 92, which is the local detour, we are putting in a couple of additional safety elements, but we’ll be monitoring closely what the traffic impacts are like,” Shelly said.
“If CDOT sees a huge influx of traffic coming in, we’re going to pay attention and adjust however we need to in order keep the roads safe for drivers.”
Improvements will include adding 4-foot shoulders to each side of the highway; flattening the “blind” curves for better sight distance while driving; and giving more space off the road for rock catchment during construction.
In terms of the driving experience, Shelly said that the contractor isn’t getting rid of the canyon, but travelers will be able to drive through the area without stressing about what is ahead of them.
“You should be able to see around all corners by the time we’re done,” said Shelly of the canyon.
The improvement is meant to eliminate or cut down on the average yearly fatalities and accidents located around mile marker 124 on the US 50 route.
With closures beginning on Monday April 19, the project team plans to begin work near the CDOT building on US 50, just past the mile marker 124.
“We’re going to go really heavy on the west end of that bridge (around mile marker 127) and we’ll have our crews coming in,” Project Manager John Butcher said of the plans to bring down rock peaks in order to widen the roads and shoulders.
Project team members will have a crusher brought in from the east end of the project to the more open location in order to minimize impact to local residents when crushing the fallen rock.
There will be two seasons to the project: The first season will take place this year until winter arrives.
This first half of the project will include the full closures. Because road damage is anticipated throughout the first season as they move quickly through the canyon, Butcher explained that winter will be dedicated to restoring the road.
“In the winter it’s all going to be paved, it won’t be bumpy or torn up asphalt,” said Butcher.
As for road damage during the first season, the project team is prepared to lay down solutions for the open passage times.
Butcher anticipates patching holes in areas to level out the roads for the weekend times, but if the roads get bad enough, they will “rip it out and put some good gravel down.”
The second season is slated to begin next April, when the team will continue drilling while cars pass by the project area. This part of the project will shift from closures to alternating traffic.
Until next April, Butcher said that they will be holding traffic near the east end of the construction zone.
There will be a large turnaround after the bridge by Blue Mesa Reservoir, and project team members plan to place a flagger to wave everyone down if they live nearby, where they can drive into a queue and turn around as needed.
Area cell coverage
CDOT is working to ensure there is cell coverage in the construction area zones for those waiting in traffic queue lines, said Shelly.
“Cellular on Wheels” or COWs, will be placed on both ends of the project zone as temporary coverage.
“We will use CDOT’s system to install wifi through that area so people will have wifi to use Facebook, email, cellular phone calls, wifi calling, text messages, etc.,” said Shelly, adding that using something like YouTube will cut the bandwidth for other people.
The COW for the western side is expected to be delivered on April 19, but Verizon has no plan to put any equipment on the temporary cell coverage device.
“The east side is the challenge because we have no fiber on this side,” Shelly said.
Shelly is working to link the fiber by the Blue Mesa store on County Road 25 to the CDOT building, where it will then be sent over to the cell tower in the project zone.
If all goes as planned, the tower is slated to be on by July 7, complete with Verizon equipment.
Hall is pleased with the progress of “Little Blue” and with everyone involved.
“Construction is always so difficult and they’ve worked so hard to make this as accommodating as possible,” said Hall.
“I look forward to how much it will improve the safety for drivers once it’s done. There’s been so much attention to getting it done right, and so as someone representing this area, I’m very appreciative.”
Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.