Elk River Road north of Columbine closed to all but local, emergency traffic | SteamboatToday.com

Elk River Road north of Columbine closed to all but local, emergency traffic

— Residents of Northwest Colorado might not think to look north for a sign of spring. But there it is — the Road and Bridge Department temporarily has closed a 9-mile stretch of Routt County Road 129 near the Wyoming border to all traffic except local, emergency and law enforcement traffic because melting snow threatens to turn it into a muddy mess.

The announcement from Road and Bridge Director Janet Hruby comes more than a month earlier than it did in 2013, when it came May 7. It's a sign the snowmelt has begun at lower elevations in North Routt and that the road could turn into a quagmire if not closed to the broader public.

The closing of the unpaved road almost is a rite of spring, Hruby said.

It's plowed all winter, so the timing of the closure has less to do with annual snowfall than with warming temperatures. Hruby exercised her authority to close the road, citing evidence there is "an immediate and probable danger of sustaining significant damage," or even the possibility the road could be destroyed if it was left open to general traffic.

The closure affects a lightly traveled stretch of road from mile marker 34 north of Columbine to Three Forks Ranch, which straddles the state line near mile marker 43. A second commercial operation, Focus Ranch, also uses C.R. 129 for the most direct access to Steamboat. Fortunately, this is a quiet season for both operations, Hruby said.

The problem, Hruby said, is that significant stretches consist solely of local soils with no road base present.

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"You can sink up to your axles when it's that freeze/frost cycle with melting," during the day, Hruby said.

Technically, the closure is for less than 90 days, but the road likely will reopen sooner, Hruby said.

"The closure is really for weekenders who are out early" on country drives this spring, she said. "We're asking them to pick somewhere else for the next month or so. We're closing it much earlier than last year, so it might be two months."

How bad is the road right now? The Routt County crew that set out to post the closure at its northern end decided to avoid the possibility of getting stuck and went the long way around, via U.S. Highway 40 to Craig, then north to Baggs, Wyo., on Colorado Highway 13 and then east on Wyoming Highway 70 through Dixon and Savery on their way to North Routt.

In general, this is a tough time for county road maintenance, Hruby said.

"It's melting, but there's still a lot of snow," she said. "We can't blade (the roads) because it's either still frozen or too soft."

Two other county roads that typically are closed in the spring to protect their surfaces, C.R. 18 in upper Pleasant Valley and C.R. 80 in California Park, still are snowed in, Hruby added.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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