Highway 9 expansion project to maintain existing roadway for ski season
November 3, 2016
For one more winter, commuters will have to negotiate the tight turn of Leslie's Curve along State Highway 9 between Frisco and Summit High School toward Breckenridge.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) made the decision at a planned winter shutdown meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 2, after contractor SEMA Construction was unable to hit its goal of having one lane each direction of the new alignment along the two-mile stretch ready by this ski season. The target was not a requirement of the contract for the two-year, $22.6 million Iron Springs project that will ultimately see two lanes each direction, but was a timetable crews hoped to hit.
"It's not a huge issue," said Grant Anderson, CDOT resident engineer for the region. "SEMA's done a good job, and was maybe a little behind schedule but not too bad, and the weather was helping them to catch up. But we're not going to cut corners on the project and do substandard work just to switch traffic for some kind of artificial timeline or need.
"We can't just make decisions just because, there's a lot of engineering involved," he added.
Still to be finished for a drivable roadway — once completed this will cut the total distance traveled on the section of Highway 9 down to 1.5 miles — is additional asphalt paving, a guardrail and the notable retaining wall on the south end of the project near the high school. The warm weather helped crews approach their objective, though the wall still took longer than expected. Wind-down of construction projects typically occurs on or around Nov. 1 each year, but SEMA will continue to work on the upper section of the road until consistent snow moves in.
CDOT started to question whether the ambitious aim was feasible by September as it began to plan for what the cold-weather months would look like for salting and plowing. While operations continued, the state transportation agency directed the contractor to also prep the existing alignment and transition it over from a construction zone in case it didn't meet the changeover timeline. That process will now be finished over the next two weeks.
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At that time, conversations were also held on the prospects and viability of a split alignment — northbound traffic on the existing road and southbound on the new pathway — to increase safety. That, like the full use of the new thoroughfare, was deemed not the most effective option, however.
"It would have been nice to have," said assistant county manager Thad Noll of the new alignment, "people are excited about being able to drive on that new section. A lot of people thought, 'Man, it would be really good not to have to drive that loop section another winter,' but it'll be like it's been for many, many years, and they'll continue work."
Missing the self-imposed deadline means SEMA won't be able to move other portions of the project along as quickly as intended. The contractor had planned to begin demolition work on the existing segment this winter, regardless of the temperatures, in order to get going on development of the new recpath adjacent to Lake Dillon. Doing so would have provided the chance at getting that much closer to completion ahead of construction restart during the upcoming spring.
As it stands, the contract for Iron Springs does not stipulate fulfillment of the project — both the new, double-capacity Highway 9 roadway and the alternate recpath alignment — before the last day of 2017. Until then, speeds will remain at the reduced 40 miles per hour, down from prior and future speeds of 50, to protect crews still working away until powering down for good, and for the benefit of all travelers driving Leslie's Curve.
"People can just take it easy in those transitions, and it'll be safer for everybody," said Anderson. "But the project is still on track, we'll have one more winter."
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