BRECKENRIDGE - A plan to expand and relocate Highway 9 between the hospital and Summit High - once the stuff of distant planning conversations - is now being considered in the near-term.
"Iron Springs is moving along nicely," assistant county manager Thad Noll said of the project Tuesday. "Faster than any of us anticipated."
With new transportation funding available, the Colorado Department of Transportation catapulted the project from the dusty pages of a Summit County wish list into an environmental review, which officials say is going very well.
"We think there're opportunities for recpath connections, less impact to the wetlands, water quality, a wildlife crossing," CDOT engineer Grant Anderson said. "Right now it's gong very well."
The project would reroute Hwy. 9 over the hill between Summit Medical Center and the high school, where the current recpath runs. The recpath, in turn, would be redirected around the more scenic curve by the lake where Hwy. 9 is currently located. The highway realignment would reduce the drive from Frisco to Farmer's Korner by half a mile.
It's one of the final pieces of a multi-year push to have four lanes - two in each direction - from Frisco to Breckenridge, a long-standing goal of local officials.
The portion from Tiger Road to Agape Church was approved for completion this summer.
For transportation officials, improved safety and reduced maintenance costs are also factors helping to elevate the Iron Springs realignment project on the priority list.
"That's the big reason we're pushing it, is we think it's safer than trying to go around that nasty curve," Anderson said.
But it's a change in the transportation department's bookkeeping practices, freeing up new money for a limited period of time, that is making the project possible in the near-term.
The program, known as RAMP, is a collaboration between Gov. John Hickenlooper and CDOT, and is expected to make an additional $300 million available for highway projects in Colorado every year for the next five years.
"(Iron Springs) just happens to fit the criteria for projects that could get those funds," Anderson said. "It's going to fit nicely with the RAMP program."
The project may include an underpass for wildlife near the high school. Local officials are also working to ensure the public still has access to the Dicky day use parking area. Many of the specifics of the project are still being considered.
"One of the things we'll all be interested to know are the details on the restoration," Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said at a meeting Tuesday. "What won't be highway anymore and instead turns into bike path. There are lots of questions - detailed questions - about what it is we're getting."
Many of those questions may not be answered until after the current environmental assessment of the project is complete, likely by this summer. Transportation officials say if the project is approved, plans will be brought to the public for feedback. A design and right-of-way acquisition period will follow, and the project could be under construction in the next year or two.