Overhaul of dangerous highway will start soon in Northwest Colorado

Scott Franz
The Colorado Department of Transportation will grant funding to a safety improvement project proposed for Colorado Highway 9. In addition to shoulders, the project will add underpasses and overpasses on the highway that will allow wildlife to avoid collisions with motorists.
Courtesy Photo

— Construction crews soon will start overhauling a dangerous stretch of highway in Grand County where many drivers have collided with wildlife.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has selected Kirkland Construction to oversee several safety improvements on Colorado Highway 9 where it runs between Kremmling and the Green Mountain Reservoir north of Silverthorne.

Kathy Connell, who represents Northwest Colorado on the state’s Transportation Commission, said work on the $46 to $50 million project could begin in March if weather conditions are favorable.

The project will add eight-foot-wide shoulders and wildlife underpasses and overpasses to the stretch of highway that was the site of 47 car accidents involving wild animals between 2007 and 2011.

Crews also will straighten some sharp curves in the road and flatten steeper sections to improve visibility.

Connell said phase one of the project will include the clearing and “grubbing” of areas along the 10-mile stretch of road to accommodate the improvements.

“I’m just thrilled about this because of the safety improvements for drivers and also because we’re adding the shoulders and making the road safer for bicyclists,” Connell said.

Colo. 9 is frequented by Northwest Colorado residents and drivers traveling to Steamboat Springs from the Front Range.

Connell said negotiations about the timing of the road work are ongoing and it’s possible some of the work could be done late at night and very early in the morning to minimize the impacts on traffic.

Connell said she and other commissioners have made it known they want the work to be timed in such a way that motorists don’t encounter any nightmarish delays as they travel between places like Steamboat Springs and Denver.

“We want this done, but we don’t want long wait times,” Connell said.

The road’s transformation into a wider, safer place won’t happen overnight. Connell said the work contract lasts 2 1/2 years.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, final work could be done as late as the spring of 2017 if weather extends the project.

Funding for the project is coming from the state and many sizable donations.

The Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 committee helped to raise $9.2 million for the project that came from local governments in Grand and Summit counties along with private business owners including the Blue Valley Ranch.

Local governments, ranchers and citizens groups have spent years pushing for safety improvements on Colo. 9.

Mike Ritschard, chairman of the Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 Committee, said Tuesday he was excited to see the improvements move forward.

Ritschard’s parents were killed in an accident on the highway in 1985 after a driver swerved to avoid a deer on the road and hit the Ritschards’ car head-on.

There were 191 people hurt in accidents on the highway from 1993 to 2012, according to CDOT. There also were 14 fatal accidents with 16 deaths.

Mule deer and other wildlife frequently cross the highway because their primary water source, the Blue River, is on the other side of the road from their winter range.

In 2011, West Grand Schools bus driver Jeanette DeBell told the Sky Hi Daily News that animal casualties on the highway were so common, students would make a game out of counting how many dead carcasses they saw on the side of the road.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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