Governor asks feds to minimize U.S. 50 closure impacts arising from Little Blue Creek Canyon project

U.S. 50 through Little Blue Creek Canyon is slated for major safety improvements; however, state leadership says the length of proposed daily closures will harm residents and commerce.

By Michael Cox

Special to Delta County Independent

Despite a well-attended and vocal protest meeting in Montrose this past summer, the project known as the Little Blue Canyon Project on US 50 will go as scheduled, according to John Knowles, the Central Federal Lands Highway Division manager for the project. Knowles said last week that the project has been awarded to American Civil Constructors of Littleton and was a go.

However, District 6 Colorado Sen. Don Coram intends to put up a roadblock.

“It’s not over,” Coram said in a terse reply to an initial text query on a recent afternoon.

On the phone shortly after that, Coram said he intends legislative action to force changes in the plans to throttle down the highly travelled and economically important artery for all of every work week, save six hours of controlled one-way traffic. The senator said that a meeting on the subject on Monday was a heated debate.

Coram said he is working with the leadership in the Senate in trying to develop a worthy solution.

The decisions for how to handle traffic on the road during the construction is primarily the call of ACC, according to Knowles. The contractor is a familiar entity in the infrastructure development arena in Colorado. It has been the primary contractor for, among many others, the I-70 construction around Glenwood Springs.

Knowles said closures expected over the next two years are the same ones announced last summer. The August announcement drew strong criticism of Western Slope ag producers as well as stakeholders, such as Arrowhead Mountain Lodge. The lodge expects a major, if not business-killing, impact from the project. Others adversely affected include many ranchers, Montrose Forest Products, and the entire tourism industry, which has already been damaged by the pandemic.

The closures, which without action by the Legislature, that would begin in April of this year are as follows:

• The canyon will be open to single-lane travel each weekday from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

• The canyon will be open to two-way travel on the weekends starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday until 8:30 a.m. Monday.

• Daytime closures on the west end of the project corridor will only be in place until the end of July 2020, at which time a single lane of travel will open up between Montrose and Arrowhead Road.

• There will be no night closures during the winter (approximately mid-October 2020 to April 2021).

The CFLHD said that, “In the second year of construction (May 2021 to April 2022), one lane of travel will be open during the daytime and there will only be overnight closures from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. These overnight closures are expected to be complete by mid-October, depending on weather conditions.”

The project affects about 3 miles of the vital east/west link in Western Colorado. Work will straighten the road between mileposts 123 and 126.8, which are about 30 miles east of Montrose. The project is backed by the FHWA and CFLHD, as well as the USDA (US Forest Service), the Department of Interior (Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management) and C-FLAP or Colorado Federal Lands Access Program (not a state agency). CDOT got a $20 million grant through FLAP to initially fund the project and then added another $20 million in state money to get it done.

While Colorado owns the highway, the federal government is doing the project. The grant stipulations by FLAP require the Central Federal Lands Project Management Division to manage the project. The decision on the road closure schedules was very much left to the contractor. As of this point, any questions about the project itself should be directed to Renee Sigel, division director, Curtis Scott, chief of engineering, or Judy Salomonson, chief of Business Operations. John Knowles is the project manager.

“We will be working with the contractor to limit closures to only those necessary to safely construct the project, but are bound by what is in the contract. As per the contract, closures can begin starting April 1,” Knowles said.

To skirt the project, motorists could go through Delta, Hotchkiss, Crawford and over the Blue Mesa dam, which adds about 90 minutes to the trip.

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