“Pack your patience.” CDOT spokesmen have used that phrase a lot over the past few months, especially in regard to a lengthy construction project — on U.S. 50, between Montrose and Gunnison — which has caused significant delays for drivers throughout the summer.
At least, the closure could have caused headaches. The fact is, the stretch of U.S. 50 so popular with east-west travelers between the Western Slope and Denver stayed open a surprising amount this summer, due to a series of floods and mudslides that rendered the major east-west interstate route just to the north — I-70, arguably the swiftest way to Denver from the San Juans — frequently impassable.
The good news is that I-70 Glenwood Springs is once again open to two-way traffic. The bad news: the window of opportunity to drive U.S. 50 — which had remained open as a way to divert traffic from I-70 in the busy tourist season — is, except for weekends, mostly closed. That fact apparently hasn’t yet registered with a lot of peeved drivers.
“We’re getting a lot of calls asking whether the schedule has changed,” project spokesman Kathleen Wanatowicz said. The answer is yes: the schedule has changed. As Wanatowicz put it, “We’re back to our regularly-scheduled closure schedule.” (Visit us50info.com to see the schedule — “I tell people to print it out and put it on their refrigerators,” Wanatowicz said — and sign up for updates while you’re there.)
“Our progress was delayed” by storm-related closures on I-70, Wanatowicz added. “We missed about four weeks of work. We’re still not sure how this will affect the overall schedule” (at least originally, the plan was for the project to be completed by November of 2022). “It may be that we can find ways to get the work done that needs to be done” and complete the project on schedule, she added, but the fact of the matter is: “We have to get this to a safe condition before wintertime. We will have a shutdown because of winter temperatures.”
The “gimme” miles are gone, in other words: Don’t expect U.S. 50 to be open any more than the “regularly-scheduled schedule” calls for. As a reminder, this means the road is open to single-lane alternating traffic on weekdays from 6:30-8:30 a.m., 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Delays on Red Mountain Pass
U.S. 50 is not the only local roadway experience delays: on Monday (Sept. 13), a project by San Miguel Power commences on Red Mountain Pass. “Because of their use of large, heavy equipment, which they need the right-of-way for, and for helicopters, this project will require lengthy, full closures of the road between Silverton and Ouray,” CDOT spokesman Lisa Schwantes said.
“This is a multi-season project. Right now, the construction will be taking place on the north side of U.S. 550. Closures are scheduled for this coming Monday through Friday, Sept. 13-17, and then again the following week, from Sept. 20-24. The closures are happening throughout the day, from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The road opens again from 12-1 p.m., and then it closes again until 5:30 p.m. This necessary work that needs to happen to bring reliable power to our mountain communities, and SMPA has a permit for it. We realize that living in our beautiful, rugged Rocky Mountains can make for some pretty extensive alternate routes. The alternative is, if you’re in Silverton or Durango and don’t want to deal with lengthy closures to Ouray, you can utilize Highway 145, via Lizard Head Pass. It typically adds about an hour to your drive.”
There’s another project coming up to watch out for.
“Nightly full closures on U.S. 160” between Durango/Bayfield and Pagosa Springs,” Schwantes said. “The reason involves a fascinating and exciting project for us in Colorado: two big-game crossings will be added to 160. One will be an underpass, and one will be an overpass, which elk really like to use.”
The closures will take place beginning Sept. 20 and last for a week, according to Schwantes, from 9 p.m.-6 a.m., Monday to Friday, Sept. 20-24, just to the east of the junction between U.S. 50 and Colorado 151.
“Locals know it as the access point to Chimney Rock National Monument, Schwantes said.
“These will be lengthy closures, but they’re the only nighttime work on this project we’ll need,” Schwantes added. “We’re doing it to minimize the impact on local traffic, and because a pair of pre-cast concrete forms — essentially, what will become the wildlife overpass — need to be set in place by several cranes.”
Before the concrete forms are secured in the right place, she explained, “They’ll be dangling above the highway.”
For the latest on the state’s road closures, visit cotrips.org.