Groundbreaking for Colorado Highway 9 project set for Thursday
Though contractors started work on a particularly hairy segment of Colorado Highway 9 in early April, the official groundbreaking for the project will take place Thursday, May 7 at 10 a.m. The $39 million project will add five wildlife underpasses and two overpasses to an 11-mile stretch of highway between mile markers 126 and 137 at the north end of Green Mountain Dam.
“Really all it is celebrating is the start of the project,” said Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tracy Trulove. “We’ve had a few people who were really instrumental in helping put the project together.”
The stretch of state highway had been an area of concern for several years, as wildlife migrating through the valley have caused more than 600 accidents in the past 20 years. CDOT reports that these cases resulted in 16 driver fatalities and about 200 injuries, not to mention the 450 animals killed along the highway in just the previous eight years.
“We suffered the tragic loss of friends, students and families in Summit and Grand County driving that road,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who will be present at the groundbreaking. “When thinking about the people driving it, you’re worried about the next loss, which is not reasonable for the community.”
The highway will be the first of its kind in the state, with the sheer number of planned wildlife crossings condensed in one area. The vegetated crossings, combined with fences, should help prevent further collisions with elk, moose and other wildlife in the area. Other planned improvements include widened shoulders, straightening sharp curves and flattening steep hills to improve driver visibility.
“It’s a great story of community support, and the final result will be spectacular like nothing else in Colorado,” Stiegelmeier said.
The project came to fruition when Blue Valley Ranch, who had maintained a record of all wildlife collisions in the area, paid for initial design work for the project, then pledged $4 million if the remaining $4.3 million needed to fast-track the project could be raised.
The Committee of Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 met the challenge, raising the remaining funds solely through donations. Grand County donated about $1 million to the project, and Summit County reached out with $250,000.
“Without Blue Valley Ranch’s initiation of the project, it would still be just an idea,” Stiegelmeier added.
This week, construction workers will continue shoulder work between mile markers 135 and 137, for excavation, embankment and the installation of new fences. CDOT estimates delays of 15 to 25 minutes will take place due to the lane and shoulder closures.
Trulove said that thanks to cooperative weather, the project is still on schedule. Phase one should be complete by November 2015, and phase two will span from April 2016 to November 2016.
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