Summit to continue with Highway 9 Iron Springs realignment despite $5 million cost increase
Summit County will continue to pursue the realignment of State Highway 9 through Iron Springs, despite a $5 million increase to cost estimates. Colorado Department of Transportation officials recommended that the county pledge to match 20 percent of the full cost despite the price hikes for the project to have a better chance of being fast-tracked by CDOT.
“We had heard that the cost was going up, but they hadn’t agreed on what the total cost was yet between all of their engineers,” said assistant county manager Thad Noll. “That was unfortunate.”
While preliminary estimates marked the total cost of the project at $15 million, the most recent estimate, a combination of CDOT and independent evaluations, came in at $20.6 million.
“It was over the last five months that we got to this point,” said Grant Anderson, a resident engineer with CDOT.
He said the increase stems from the fact that highway construction costs have increased between 10 and 15 percent since initial plans were drawn. The project has also grown in complexity, with wildlife underpasses added to minimize the road’s impact on the surrounding wetlands.
The new alignment would move the highway west, further away from Dillon Reservoir, in order to allow State Highway 9 to be expanded to two lanes. It would also shorten the highway by just under half a mile, and create a less steep curve than the bend dubbed “Leslie’s Curve.” The existing bike path would then be moved to follow the shore of the reservoir.
The realignment is also preferred, as impact studies show that realigning the highway would be less environmentally destructive than widening it in its existing location. Noll said that in the proposed location, the highway would be moved further away from drinking water supplies in the reservoir, and will allow sections of the wetlands to be restored.
“It will be better environmentally, safety and experience-wise,” Noll said.
The only deterrent is the growing cost of the realignment.
“We can trim some fat from the project,” Anderson said. “But it’s gonna be pretty rough.”
With an evaluation team from CDOT scheduled to look at the project on Monday, Thad said the county will write a letter to CDOT expressing their intention to maintain their 20 percent contribution to the project with a match by CDOT, despite the higher cost.
“We’ll say yeah, we know the cost is going up and we’re gonna share the pain,” Noll said. “Because we know if we say no, the project isn’t going to get done at all, and we would have to wait 10, 15, 20 years before CDOT will have the money to do it.”
Next, the project would be reviewed by the state Transportation Commission on July 16. Construction would start next April, with the project tentatively finished by 2017, if the project receives final approval for CDOT’s RAMP (Rapid Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships) program.
“It’s a really significant project for the area,” Anderson said.
He added that contributions by the county and other partners would be crucial to the consideration of the project.
“The whole program is set up on partnerships,” Anderson said. “If the partners don’t want to participate, I don’t think it gets as much weight as far as which projects are selected to move forward.”
Noll said the county would look into bringing in additional partners for the project, with a number of stakeholders who would benefit from the realignment.
“We’re gonna see about getting other partners,” Noll said. “In the end, the community is really the beneficiary. Because we’re going to end up with a spectacular bike path and a much safer, shorter highway.”
If approved, he hopes to see the project go to bid by this winter.
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