Hey, where did that spiffy new highway come from? | AspenTimes.com

Hey, where did that spiffy new highway come from?

Downvalley commuters who have put up with detours and flaggers in Snowmass Canyon for the past two years can expect things to change radically this fall, when traffic is rerouted onto the nearly completed upvalley lanes.

Joe Elsen, the program engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation who is overseeing the project, said the switch should happen sometime in the second half of October.

As a result, the detour onto Lower River Road will disappear altogether. The new lanes will eventually serve as the two upvalley lanes once the expansion to four lanes through the canyon is complete. For the immediate future, the new roadway will be converted into a two-lane highway, with one lane of travel in each direction. Commuters will have little interaction with the continuing work to build new downvalley lanes.

Lead contractor Ames Construction has until November 2005 to complete the four-laning project, but is shooting for completion by November 2004. The company will earn a $500,000 bonus if it can finish a full year ahead of schedule.

“One nice thing is that there are some really cool views up there,” Elsen said.

Over the past several months, paving crews have been working long days to complete the upvalley lanes, which span five bridges. Elsen said the intensity of the paving work varies from week to week and day to day, depending on what’s going on elsewhere in the project.

“It all is pretty complicated in a project like this,” Elsen said. “It’s like a big chess game – this needs to happen before that can happen.”

Once traffic is switched to the new lanes, Ames and its subcontractors will begin replacing the old two-lane road through the canyon with what eventually will become the downvalley lanes.

The giant pile of rock and gravel next to the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road will be crushed and hauled off to serve as backfill and sub-base for the new downvalley lanes.

“That’s designated for this project and will be used up by the time we finish the downvalley lanes,” Elsen said.

The decision to store the rock and gravel, all of which was dug up in earlier stages of the four-laning from Basalt to Buttermilk, will save an estimated $600,000 on the final cost of the project.

The only major cost overrun occurred at the upvalley end of the canyon next to the Waterview Apartments, where the existing road and the embankment it’s built on began sliding toward the apartments and the Roaring Fork River. Stabilizing the hillside and road cost about $1 million.

Elsen said the project has gone as smoothly as can be expected and has generated very few complaints.

“We really appreciate everyone’s patience,” he said.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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