Contractors work to cure pothole plague in canyon

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Asphalt from Denver was used to fix potholes plaguing Highway 82 through Snowmass Canyon on Tuesday, which should be a permanent solution to an ongoing problem, a state transportation official said.

A flashing sign with the message, “Slow down now!!” has warned drivers of sizable potholes for the past several weeks. The lane detour in the canyon as part of the four-laning project was to blame, said project manager Joe Elsen of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The project’s contractor was given some leeway to design the detour that could last until the end of this summer, when traffic moves onto the new upvalley lanes.

In an effort to save money, the quickly engineered detour wasn’t up to snuff when it came to handling wintry weather and high traffic volume.

“We’re talking in terms of the Cadillac of detours versus the Chevy Impala of detours,” Elsen said.

Asphalt had to be imported Tuesday from Denver to correct the problem. Local “hot plants” that make asphalt close down for the winter, so crews tried using a “cold mix” substance to repair the damage. While asphalt remains glued together effectively, the colder substance can be pressed into a pothole, but it doesn’t always stay put.

And with the repairs in Snowmass Canyon falling apart, contractors finally went to Denver, where a plant could provide asphalt.

“We have guys and girls there in the canyon trying to do the very best job for our traveling public,” Elsen said. “We’re glad they were able to get asphalt up from Denver.”

The detour was created for an area at approximately mile marker 28, known as the “big rock knob” to contractors. There was debate about whether to cut into the rock for the upvalley lanes, and ultimately contractors decided to wrap the lanes around the rocky outcrop.

As a result, the spot is one of the few places in the canyon where the downvalley lanes have been constructed. The detour was put into place for daytime traffic during the project. In general, Elsen said the engineers and contractors try to move traffic as little as possible.

Traffic could be shifted onto the new lanes – at times high above the river – by late summer, Elsen said. In addition, if the downvalley lanes are completed within one year (instead of two, as scheduled) the contractor will receive a $500,000 incentive from CDOT.

“Ames Construction has always said they’re going for that,” Elsen said. “They’re a very, very organized contractor. Subcontractor Edward Kraemer and Sons are building the brides, and Yenter Companies has done a lot of the drilling work. Everyone has been very organized with this project.”

Compared to other similar projects, such as the four-laning of Glenwood Canyon and Shale Bluffs, Elsen said he thinks traffic has flowed smoothly through the construction.

“We were pleased we were able to work with the people on Lower River Road and Pitkin County to have the detour available to us,” Elsen said of the weekday detour that diverts downvalley traffic onto Lower River Road from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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