Rick Taylor drives to Steamboat Springs from Denver every two months for work. As he started on his journey back to the metro area Tuesday, he was surprised when it suddenly stopped.
Taylor and about 50 other motorists came to a full stop for nearly 20 minutes just past Rabbit Ears Pass at a roadblock implemented for construction in the area.
"It will be nice when this is finished," he said as he waited in his air-conditioned SUV.
Drivers traveling in both directions are being stopped each day while a two-mile stretch of U.S. 40 between Rabbit Ears and Muddy Pass undergoes a major face-lift.
The Colorado Department of Transportation began the $5.4 million project in June 2002 and put it on hold through the winter and wet spring. In June, the work started again, and this time it is creating more slowing on the roadway.
"It was a very old, narrow, crooked piece of highway," CDOT program engineer Rich Perske said. "The roadway is being totally reconstructed."
A climbing lane for trucks will be added to the westbound lane, as well as a 4-foot shoulder. An 8-foot shoulder will be added to the eastbound lane.
Other factors in the area made renovations necessary, as well, said CDOT resident engineer Glenn Violette. The upgrades were overdue for the stretch of highway, he said.
"It was one of the worst in the state for that type of roadway," Violette said of the high-mountain road.
"We found that that section of roadway in the winter would ice over with frost," Violette said. The icy conditions were made worse by trees that shaded the stretch of highway. The foliage was thinned last summer to allow more sun to hit the road and cut down on ice during the winter.
Slippery pavement, compounded with the steep cutbacks, made for an increased accident rate in that area, Perske explained.
"There were a lot of spinouts," he said. The construction also is being used to lessen the severity of the curves, he said.
The paving and road reconstruction portion of the project is under way. The work necessitates stopping motorists because only one lane of traffic can travel through the area at a time.
The lanes leading through the construction zone are unpaved dirt roads for now, and the speed limit is 25 mph.
Violette said construction crews were working hard to ease traffic holdups.
"We're doing our best to keep those as short as possible," he said. "If we don't have to stop traffic, we don't."
He said the waits should never exceed 35 minutes, which was the wait time estimated before the project began. Construction hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays.
The construction should be completed by the fall, he said. If not, the roads will at least be paved by then.
Using the alternate route of Colorado highways 131 to 134 over Gore Pass will not save drivers much time, Violette said.
"It turns out that it takes about the same amount of time," he said, the difference is whether drivers prefer to keep driving or stop and wait at a roadblock.