A major road construction project on Highway 133 between Delta and Hotchkiss is nearing completion.
The $13.1 million railroad overpass at Stengel's Hill was funded from a variety of sources -- $3.6 million in FASTER safety funds, $4.1 million in railroad crossing funds, $4.3 million in Regional Priority Project (RPP) funds and $1.1 million in surface treatment funds.
The project was determined a priority due to the at-grade railroad crossing and sight distances for private driveways and the road to the Gunnison River Pleasure Park.
While mine slowdowns in the North Fork have reduced concerns about the at-grade railroad crossing, Tracy Trulove, communications manager for Region 3, Colorado Department of Transportation, said the project still addresses safety concerns.
"This project got a lot of attention because it went to advertisement and then the mine closed," Trulove said. But a traffic safety assessment conducted from 2007 to 2011 shows 99 accidents were reported in that narrow stretch of highway. Trulove provided a breakdown of accidents that includes 88 involving property damage (to the driver's vehicle or someone's fence, for instance), 10 injury accidents and one fatality during the five-year period.
"One of the best benefits of the project from a safety aspect is for the property on the south side of the highway at the top of Stengel's Hill. The realignment has greatly improved the sight distance of this access of two homes that was almost blind with traffic flowing at 55-60 mph," Trulove said.
In addition to improving sight distance, the project provides shoulders, turn lanes to the Gunnison River Pleasure Park, and an eastbound climbing lane which will hopefully reduce high speed passing on Rogers Mesa.
Trulove said CDOT looked at many alternatives, including maintaining the existing at-grade railroad intersection.
"A major challenge of maintaining the Stengel's at-grade railroad crossing was a combination of the railroad curve and super-elevation alignment being in conflict with the highway curve and super-elevation alignment," she explained. "Those two alignment differences caused the highway traffic to 'twist' as a vehicle crossed the railroad tracks. At slow speeds, this could be described as alarming, however at higher speeds, it could cause loss of control."
Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee said the road project will allow quicker response during emergencies. "That's one less railroad crossing to worry about being on the wrong side of," he said.
"Anything that gets done to Highway 92 is an improvement in my mind," said county commissioner Mark Roeber. "I can't wait for the next phase, which is Rogers Mesa. CDOT is still talking plans, but at the least hopefully they'll extend the shoulders so people have more room to get off the road to make turns.
"I know there have been a lot of complaints about all the money spent on that overpass," Roeber continued, "but we think there's still going to be trains."
The seventh annual Eckert Crane Days, the annual viewing of the sandhill cranes migrating north from New Mexico through Colorado's West Slope, will be March 16-18. Representatives from the Black Canyon Chapter of the Audubon Society (BCAS) will be at the viewing site east of Eckert at Fruitgrowers Reservoir, 9 to 11 a.m. each day, to answer questions and provide binoculars and spotting scopes.