The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is gearing up to begin the permanent reconstruction of Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon.
The repairs made immediately after the big 2013 flood were considered temporary, said CDOT spokesman Jared Fiel.
“We don’t want the same thing to happen again, so we’re going to go in there and do it better than it was,” Fiel said. “We’re trying to build in some resiliency.”
Fiel said the entire 24-mile project will take two-and-a-half to three years to complete at a cost of more than $130 million. Preliminary work on one phase of the project will begin after July 4.
He added they’ll begin blasting out some rock for a new section of roadway in what’s referred to as the “horseshoe. That’s an area of the highway that parallels the river as it makes a sharp horseshoe like turn.
Fiel said the new section will veer away from the creek to avoid the sharp turn, “so Mother Nature can do her thing,” without affecting the new highway.
The rock blasting will necessitate a once-daily closure of the highway for about 15 to 20 minutes. That will last through Labor Day, Fiel said.
After Labor Day is when the big work begins.
Crews will try to raise the roadbed in sections of a three-mile area that were washed out in the 2013 and 1976 floods.
“We noticed after the floods, that everything that was on bedrock lasted,” he said. “So that’s what we’re looking at. There are certain sections where we’ll be blasting into the rocks to move that onto bedrock.”
The big question is – do they shut off access to the canyon completely, while work progresses, or do they allow limited access?
“We went to residents and asked them, ‘would it be okay to almost completely shut off that small section and get the work done over a shorter time frame, or do we allow some access for short periods but extend the construction time?’” he said.
CDOT has hosted a couple of town hall meetings to get feedback, and Fiel told Denver7 that CDOT is offering up three options as a starting point.
-- OPTION A --
- No canyon access on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
- Restrictions in place for 11 months (Sept. 2016 – July 2017)
-- OPTION B --
- No access through canyon for entire duration of closure (except emergency access and Idylwilde residents)
- Restrictions in place for 5 months (Sept. 2016 – Feb. 2017)
-- OPTION C --
- Sept. through Dec. 2016: Option A
- Jan. through May 2017: Option B
- Restrictions in place for 9 months (Sept. 2016 – Memorial Day 2017)
When when it comes to options, business owners in Estes Park have mixed opinions.
Kathleen George, the owner of Rustic Mountain Charm, said there will be challenges with either option. She said she’s grateful that visitors to the mountain town can still access it without restrictions via Highway 36.
“I want to make sure they’re aware of how to get here and how much time to allow to get here,” she said.
Rob Mardock, owner of the Estes Park Mountain Shop, said, “Although I’d like to have it done as soon as possible, I think spreading it out and keeping it accessible year-round is going to be more important.”
Mardock said many of his customers come from Northern Colorado after tourist season.
Fiel said CDOT has heard a range of opinions so far, and that the final decision may be a hybrid of all of the options.
For more information about the project click here.
Fiel said Highway 34 is pretty special.
“It’s more than just a road to get from point A to point B,” he said. “It’s that experience of being able to explore Colorado. When you take people out of town, you take them up that canyon and that’s what we want. People have been doing this for generations and we don’t want to lose that aspect.”