Driving You Crazy: Douglas Pass along Colorado Highway 139 is crumbling beneath our tires!

It seems rural CO gets the short end of the stick

West in Garfield County writes, “What is driving you crazy? Douglas pass highway 139 is in terrible shape! The roads are just crumbling! Douglas pass has lots of traffic, especially truck traffic. It seems as though rural Colorado gets the short end of the stick and this Douglas pass is trashed!”

Douglas Pass is along Colorado Highway 139 about 50 miles north of Grand Junction between the little town of Loma north of I-70 and Rangely in Rio Blanco County. It's an original 1920’s state highway and wasn’t even paved all the way to the summit of Douglas Pass until 1972. The paving was extended from Douglas Pass north to Rangely in about 1975.

The pass reaches an elevation of 8,268 feet and has numerous switchbacks and a narrow, rock shelf alignment in places. The two-lane highway is used mostly by truck traffic due to ranching and the gas and oil development in northwestern Colorado.

I have never driven on the pass however I’m told the summit gives an unusual view of the northeast face of the La Sal Mountains that have twelve peaks over 12,000 feet. The road is reasonably steep on the south side with a 7% grade but compared to mountain passes like Independence Pass or Cottonwood Pass, it’s tame. Highway 139 is what CDOT calls a low volume road, with about 1000 cars on average driving on it every day.

Tracy Truelove, CDOT’s Region 3 communications manager, (Region 3 covers the entire northwest quarter of the state) tells me CDOT is well aware of the improvements needed on Douglas Pass.

“About 10 to 15 years ago CDOT made several improvements in this corridor by adding shoulders between mile posts 52 and 62.  We currently have a project designed and on the shelf between MP 48 and 52. However, transportation funding has gotten extremely tight over the last few years and we have not been able to move this project forward,” Truelove said.  

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

Tracy says there is a general lack of understanding about transportation funding. She says there are different transportation funds for specific types of improvements and, almost always, the requests outweigh the resources.  

“Unfortunately CO 139 is just one example of roadways around the state of Colorado that are in need of improvements, but not possible within the current transportation funding,” Truelove said.

Truelove, as well as CDOT’s Executive Director Shailen Bhatt, hopes the current transportation funding bill being negotiated in the State legislature will be passed by voters allowing for new money to flow to rural projects like this.

“CO 139 is a highway that we do try to assure we are completing basic maintenance with our in house forces to assure we have a usable system. However, it is one of our lower used roadways so the levels of service are certainly not as high as roadways such as Interstate 70. Our Region 3 maintenance crews are staying on top of tasks such as pothole repair and roadway patching along CO 139," Truelove said. 

Douglas Pass was featured by the Colorado Springs Gazette in their 10 most challenging drives in Colorado, coming in at number 9. The Gazette said about Douglas Pass: While Douglas Pass isn’t particularly high or steep, it is built into a shale mountainside that makes for frequent lane blockages and erosion of the shoulders. It’s heavily used by truckers because it’s by far the most expeditious route north from Grand Junction. The narrow lanes, heavy use and erosion make for unexpected surprises.

That is exactly what CDOT is hoping for, no unexpected surprises that could make Highway 139 over Douglas Pass any worse.

Denver7 traffic reporter Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast. 

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