LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. - Now that the summer tourist season is over, the Colorado Department of Transportation is ramping up efforts to rebuild U.S. 34 through the Big Thompson Canyon.
The highway was heavily damaged during the catastrophic floods of 2013.
Work crews will close a three-mile section of the highway, between mile markers 77 and 80, at 8:30 Monday morning, October 17.
The highway will remain closed to through traffic until late May, re-opening just before Memorial Day 2017.
During that time, construction crews will blast out 200,000 cubic yards of rock so they can shorten a curve prone to flooding and elevate a section of highway onto the bedrock of an adjacent hill.
CDOT says permits have been issued to people living in the Big Thompson Canyon, allowing them to follow pilot cars through the three-mile work zone between the hours of 6 and 8:30 a.m. and 4 and 7:00 p.m.
Through traffic will have to use the posted detour down U.S. 287 to highway 66 and then west to U.S. 36 through Lyons.
Business owners in nearby Estes Park are bracing for the closure.
“It’s a necessary improvement,” said Gary Bien, at Kirk’s Fly Shop, “but it will have a big impact.”
Bien told Denver7 that many customers from Loveland and Fort Collins won’t bother with the detour.
“They’ve already told us that, ‘we’ll see you next spring,’” he said.
Candace Fouts, the owner of both Wynbriar Home and Wynbriar Gallery, is a little more optimistic.
She said most people who visit Estes Park make an entire day of it and won’t be put out by having to drive an extra 15 minutes.
That’s how much longer it will take to drive from Loveland to Estes via U.S. 36, according to CDOT.
Denver7 ran its own test in July.
Both drives started in Loveland. One via U.S. 34 through the Big Thompson Canyon took 44 minutes. The other, via highway 66 and U.S. 36 via Lyons took an extra 15 minutes.
“People love Estes Park. They love Rocky Mountain National Park,” Fouts said. “They’ll still come.”
One visitor told Denver7 that she drove to Estes Park today because she knew the highway would be closed Monday.
“I probably won’t be back until next year,” she said, “because I live in Loveland and it’s a fairly long drive around.”
When told that CDOT and our tests showed it was only 15 minutes longer, the Loveland visitor said there are other places she can visit that won’t require as long a drive.
CDOT said the 2013 flood ripped out the same sections of highway that were heavily damaged during the deadly 1976 flood.
“As a result of those two events,” CDOT said in a news release, “CDOT has been studying the hydraulic flow of the river in the canyon and its impact on the road and bridges along its path, while looking for safety improvements and resiliency solutions to prevent/protect against future flood events.”
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