The table is set for Summit County’s most ambitious transportation plan yet.
On Wednesday, public officials and ski industry chiefs hoisted shovels and plunged into a centerpiece project that will cost nearly $23 million and radically realign the stretch of road along State Highway 9 between Summit High School and Frisco.
Years in the making, the Iron Springs project will increase road capacity from one lane each direction to two, as well as eliminate a tight turn known as “Leslie’s Curve.” Regional stakeholders on Wednesday emphasized the importance of collaboration in turning concept into reality.
“When I became a commissioner, I thought, ‘Well, I wonder if I’ll ever see four lanes to the busiest ski area in North America or not?’ said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, who took office in December 2006. “But, here we are, and, in two years, we’re going to have that. It really took all of us doing a lot of talking with each other in order to pull this all together.”
The project was not without its bumps along the way. The county and Frisco first entered into an agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for realignment of the connector artery — estimated at an initial cost of $17.5 million — in 2013 through a CDOT construction stimulus program called Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships, or RAMP.
The new initiative operated under a structure of matching funds from regional stakeholders to complete important projects around the state, and the Summit contingent together consented to offering land and services valued at approximately $4.3 million. However, due to the widening of construction costs and added wildlife habitat mitigation measures, the price tag ballooned to $22.6 million in March 2015 and local officials scrambled to fund the $5 million gap or risk losing out on the CDOT grant entirely.
By August, the county ponied up a little more than $300,000 additional cash and also asked both the town of Breckenridge and Vail Resorts, Inc. (owner of Breckenridge Ski Resort) to contribute the same amount each for a total of $1 million — the equivalent of a 20-percent match on the increased expense. The county also negotiated a conservation easement swap with the Continental Divide Land Trust, an area nonprofit that preserves open spaces, due to the issue of a necessary right of way to move the plan forward.
“This kind of project really can’t happen without this kind of partnerships,” said Grant Anderson, CDOT’s resident engineer for the region. “We’ve been working on it five or six years to get to this milestone. It’s a huge project for the county. The ribbon-cutting will be even better when we’re all done.”
Colorado-based SEMA Construction won the competitive bidding process and initial mobilization of Iron Springs started on May 16. Motorists should anticipate occasional delays through the project limits during peak operations, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the bike path will remain open for cyclists, though some detours will be assembled.
The benefits to the bike path are also an element of the overall project, which is scheduled for completion by the end of 2017, that officials touted. They said the Highway 9 facelift will add to the safety and quality of the experience within the county’s bike system, with a handful of underpasses so riders don’t have to cross over the highway at any point, leading right into the Frisco Peninsula.
“That new alignment will be a gorgeous, scenic route along the edge of (Dillon) Reservoir,” said Thad Noll, assistant county manager. “Not only will the traffic bottlenecks get better and the highway a lot safer, but bicyclists and other users here are going to see a giant boost with the elimination of the curvy steep section that brought a lot of people either to their knees or at least to jump off their bicycles.”
Construction on the reroute will run through November of this year before a winter stoppage. CDOT and SEMA, meanwhile, anticipate that a two-lane configuration of Iron Springs — one lane each way — will be accomplished and drivable by then, and the current Highway 9 connection closed. Regardless of if they hit that target, officials are just happy the project has finally begun.
“We’re incredibly excited about what this project will do for the travelers between Frisco and Breckenridge,” said Noll, “almost completing the corridor here that’s been on the itinerary of long-range plans for many years. This is a really good community amenity, and having all these partners here to help make it happen was what made it happen.”