Rural road to feel effects of canyon project |

Rural road to feel effects of canyon project

Transforming the stretch of Highway 82 that winds through Snowmass Canyon from a two-lane to a four-lane road will not affect residents across the river as much as originally thought.

But even though the Colorado Department of Transportation has decided against diverting all traffic to Lower River Road, residents are still going to see some major changes starting next summer.

Lower River Road will need to be straightened in some areas and widened from Aspen Village to Snowmass Creek. If traffic counts from this August hold true in coming years, the road will handle about 4,200 cars between 6:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., up from 461 currently.

Transportation engineers are planning to give that section of Highway 82 a makeover similar to the one they gave I-70 through Glenwood Canyon, CDOT manager Ralph Trapani told the County Commissioners yesterday

When the work is finished, the downvalley lanes will remain close to the river, roughly following the existing path of Highway 82. The upvalley lanes will be carved up the hillside, at times disappearing behind stands of existing spruce trees that will fill some sections of the median.

Retaining walls up to 15-feet high will be built above the upvalley lanes to minimize the effects of the project. “If we used the typical cut and fill design, the destruction would begin way up the hill, and finish right next to the river,” Trapani said.

The project’s contractor will need to build six bridges over the three-and-a-half-mile stretch, including two that will be used as a wildlife underpass at the widest section of the canyon. Trapani said the state Department of Wildlife directed him to build only one underpass, because it is the only place animals use for river access.

The underpasses will be staggered, with the upvalley bridge several dozen yards upstream from the bridge under the downvalley lanes, which is meant to preserve extensive wetlands in the area. Large fences will be used to guide elk, deer, bears, mountain lions and other critters through the underpass.

Work begins in the canyon, either in 2000 or 2001, depending on the outcome of the highway funding question on the state ballot. When the project gets underway, downvalley traffic will be diverted at Aspen Village to Lower River Road for at least nine hours every weekday – from 6:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

Upvalley traffic will stay on Highway 82, using what is currently the downvalley lane until 3:30 p.m. At 3:30, all traffic will return to Highway 82.

CDOT is hoping to limit the amount of traffic on Lower River Road by charging the contractor for each hour it closes the highway lane, with the fees escalating as the day progresses. The idea is meant to give crews the room and flexibility they need to work a full, eight-hour day, but keep the highway open during afternoon rush hour.

“This is a way to get the contractor to sharpen their pencil and limit their use of the lane,” Trapani said.

The estimated cost of the Snowmass Canyon portion of the project is now $100 million, Trapani said.

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