The State Highway 9 Iron Springs project covering a four-mile stretch between Breckenridge and Frisco is nearly off the ground and running.
Summit County officials met with a packed room in the county courthouse in Breckenridge yesterday morning, Tuesday, Feb. 9, to discuss progress on the re-alignment plan, which has a pricetag of about $22.6 million, as part of a quarterly meeting with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
Representatives from the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco, the area ski resorts, local law enforcement as well as other interested members of the community were also in attendance.
The discussion centered on the latest developments for selecting a contractor to complete the project that will shorten the stretch of road by almost a ½-mile, eliminate a tight, potentially unsafe compound bend on the current route known as “Leslie’s Curve” and increase Highway 9 from two lanes — one each direction — to four. The plan will also relocate the recpath closer to Dillon Reservoir.
Opening bids for the project are due to CDOT on Thursday, Feb. 11. Thirteen firms possibly vying for the job previously picked up packets. A winning contractor and bid should be announced by no later than the end of February, with groundbreaking happening as early as this spring.
“(F)rom the stoplight into the County Commons to the stoplight into the hospital, if we don’t get that done, we’re all going to be really challenged as to, ‘What were you thinking?’”County Commissioner Thomas Davidson
From there, the project, which will be fully completed by Dec. 31, 2017, should move along relatively quickly because it is a brand-new roadway being carved out of the land and does not require diverting traffic or widening the current portion of the highway. This will also yield lower costs, by some approximations several million dollars, due to limiting necessary traffic control measures such as the use of flaggers and barricades, on top of lost construction hours to allow increased traffic flow on the weekends.
There’s even some projections that this new section of Highway 9 could be finished and ready for vehicles by winter 2016. That prospect, while admittedly improbable, has the county especially excited.
“We absolutely have two years of work to do,” said assistant county manager Thad Noll, “but traffic and a whole extra winter — wow, that would be very valuable. It would be unbelievable; but the truth is, it is possible the highway portion will be drivable by next winter. We’ll see.”
Not part of the Iron Springs project but tied to the same corridor and brought up during the same discussion was the predicament of Gap III. The ¾-mile section in Frisco, between the traffic light into the County Commons and the stoplight at Peak One Drive leading to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, will — at least for now — remain at just two lanes, one each direction.
To avoid a bottleneck following the Iron Springs expansion to four lanes, Noll suggested the possibility of a temporary workaround by restriping existing asphalt into four lanes. Doing so, however, may automatically trigger a condition, per the original project environmental impact statement, for the installation of noise walls and other mitigation requirements. The circumstances called for more study, but such a chokepoint could produce its own set of challenges.
“Picture the racing that occurs when trying to get in, ‘I’ve got to get in before you’ and you run out of lane,” he said. “Aye, yai, yai. So we’ll see how that all goes and figure out how four to two transitions.”
Gap III is part of the Breckenridge-to-Frisco project, just not the Iron Springs portion, so necessitates another sum of money neither CDOT nor the county has at the moment. The school of thought though, said Noll, is to work on these larger road projects piecemeal as money is available, even if there are growing pains.
“If you don’t do one segment because you don’t’ have the money for two segments, you’d never get anything done,” he said.
In the meantime, the approaching problem looms, with no solid estimates for how soon Gap III of the overall project might be tended to. The region receives an annual allotment for discretionary spending, but initial projections from the meeting suggested that potential funding through that means may not be accessible for the design work alone until as far out as 2021.
“No doubt we’ll address it, as funding is available and when it comes,” said Grant Anderson, CDOT’s resident engineer for the region. “We’re still focused on getting Iron Springs delivered, and then we’ll start the planning process to complete the corridor.”
Iron Springs is only a small part of a much larger Highway 9 corridor improvement plan dating as far back as 1999. Following land donations and agreements for a couple property swaps, among other detailed arrangements, the county received funding — then an estimated cost of $17.5 million — in 2013 for Iron Springs through CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program. That also required a minimum 20-percent match between local public and private partners.
“There’s been a fabulous collaboration going on here to get this project done,” County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said at the CDOT meeting, before adding, “from the stoplight into the County Commons to the stoplight into the hospital, if we don’t get that done, we’re all going to be really challenged as to, ‘What were you thinking?’”