Steamboat Springs When Kathy Connell and Colorado's Transportation Legislation Review Committee hit the road last month, traveling from Kremmling to a conference in Steamboat Springs, Connell told the lawmakers to remember all the dangers on Colorado Highway 9.
Take note of all the places that don't have shoulders, she said.
Now imagine you're a biker.
Now imagine you're driving to Steamboat for the first time in a blizzard, or a deer or an elk runs in front of you.
The latter scenarios are common experiences for many Routt County residents on their trips to the Front Range.
“Any time I go down to Denver, I not only think of those previous accidents where people got injured or killed (on this road), but I'm recognizing I'm putting my life in danger,” Connell said.
Connell, a State Highway commissioner from Steamboat, was very upbeat and enthusiastic Monday when she could say the state soon will spend tens of millions of dollars to help make the roadway safer.
The announcement came after more than a year of planning and fierce competition from several other projects across the state that also aim to make roadways safer.
“I feel a great sense of success that we got through this process with all the other competing variables,” Connell said.
The Highway 9 project will improve a nearly 11-mile stretch of the highway between Silverthorne and Kremmling by adding eight-foot-wide shoulders, wildlife fencing and new wildlife overpasses and underpasses.
The overpasses and underpasses will allow wildlife to get to the Blue River that is on the opposite side of the highway from their winter range.
From 1993 to 2012, there have been 191 people hurt in accidents on the highway, according to CDOT. There have been 14 fatal accidents with 16 deaths. From 2007 to 2011, wild animals were involved in 35 percent of the accidents.
“We've all known people who have had problems on that road,” Connell said.
The Highway 9 project will receive Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships funding, known as RAMP. The RAMP funding request for the project is $36 million.
Connell said the demand for the RAMP funding was about three times greater than what CDOT had the funding for.
To be considered for the funding, proponents of the projects had to provide a significant private match.
The Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 committee helped raise $9.2 million that came from local governments in Grand and Summit counties along with private business owners.
Connell said the hope is to start putting the nearly $46 million project out to bid in July.
She said the project will have many benefits beyond just improving the safety of the road.
When new bus service takes travelers from Denver's Union Station to Dillon, for example, Connell said an improved Highway 9 will make it easier and more enticing for tourists to make their way up to places like Steamboat.
The new fencing also should prevent wildlife deaths on the highway. CDOT estimates wildlife deaths totaled 455 in a recent eight-year period.
Connell joked that with less prey being killed in collisions with motorists, the area's mountain lions will come out winners too.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10