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Highway 9 traffic delays easing

SUMMIT COUNTY – Traffic delays through the Highway 9 construction zone north of Silverthorne have eased during the past couple of weeks, with some as short as 10 minutes. Most are clocking in at about 20 minutes, and none have exceeded 40 minutes, said project engineer Mike Voxakis.

It isn’t just Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) employees who think traffic flow has improved. Commuters, including Heeney resident and Summit County facilitator Jack Taylor, say they’ve noticed the difference, too.

“In the last week, I think they’ve done a much better job in terms of not allowing for these incredibly long delays,” said Taylor, who commutes daily from Heeney to Dillon. “(Earlier this summer) there were two occasions where it took me an hour and a half to get home from Dillon, which normally takes 35, 40 minutes. In the last week or so, I’ve been timing the amount of time I’ve been stopped, and it’s never exceeded 15 minutes.”



In late September, three CDOT engineers met with the Summit County Commissioners and several Heeney-area residents to discuss how to improve driving conditions through the construction zone. Commuters complained bitterly about the condition of the road and delays that at times lasted nearly an hour.

Work on the $14 million project began last summer and won’t conclude until the summer of 2003. The construction, which aims to widen shoulders, add retaining walls and soften curves, extends from mile marker 109 to 115 north of Silverthorne.



Since the meeting, CDOT has hired additional flaggers to both direct traffic and inform waiting drivers about delay times. CDOT also set specific hours during which delays are guaranteed not to go beyond a specified period.

CDOT engineer Ina Zisman said she believes conditions through the construction zone are better now but admitted last week she might have done things differently from the start.

“My lesson on this project – I will do more public relations work,” she said. “If people knew what to expect, they probably would have been more tolerant.

“Our goal is to do the best job we can with minimum impact – sometimes that impact is pretty significant. But delays to traffic aren’t good for CDOT, the contractor or the public.”

From now through the project’s conclusion, CDOT plans to keep the driving public up to date on anticipated delays, Zisman said.

Other recent improvements through the area include the recent elimination of night work, Voxakis said Friday.

“Right now, we are trying to winterize the project,” Zisman said. “That’s the whole goal right now.”

That includes making sure there’s pavement throughout the length of the project. CDOT officials say there will be new pavement on five miles of the six-mile project zone, while the original pavement will remain on a one-mile stretch that still will need significantly more work during the summer of 2003. By Oct. 15, CDOT also plans to reduce the length of the active construction area – now about three miles – to two miles.

Zisman said part of this summer’s problems are the result of unanticipated difficulties. Material excavated from the road is extremely rocky, making it difficult not only to keep the road smooth but also to find places to deposit the unused dirt and rocks. Steep slopes – and water springing unexpectedly from the slopes and the ground surface – also has complicated the work.

“It is very, very, very challenging,” Zisman said. “I thought the Berthoud Pass construction was very challenging, but I would rate this as (just as) challenging.”

In September, road conditions shifted abruptly from dry to wet.

“We realized the road was not good,” Zisman said. “We started implementing changes (before the commissioners’ meeting). We were trying to do something. But it takes time, especially on a project of this length.”

Zisman said the commissioners called in CDOT engineers to confront them about the road conditions before the planned changes could be implemented.

CDOT is overseeing the project, contracting the work to Denver-based PCL Civil Constructors.


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