State Highway 9 is a major traffic route between Kremmling and Silverthorne in Summit and Grand Counties. Since 1993, the narrow, 10 mile long stretch of highway between mile marker 126 and 137 has been the site of 191 serious injury accidents and 16 human fatalities. In 2012 alone, more than 200 wildlife accidents on this highway were reported. The narrow roadway bisects feeding and watering habitat frequently used by migrating wildlife making it one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in Colorado. In order to improve safety for both travelers and wildlife, a partnership was formed between the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Blue Valley Ranch in order to provide a wildlife crossing solution.
Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner stated that "approximately 3,500 people travel that road everyday."
Overall, the $46 million project will include minor widening of the highway with the addition of 8' shoulders for bike paths, improving roadway alignment to bring up to current design standards, straightening severe roadway curves, flattening steep hills to improve drivers' sight distance, making access and intersection improvements, and implementing wildlife mitigation features such as fencing, underpasses and overpasses to allow wildlife such as deer and elk to continue their migration path across the highway.
"This is a vital link between Summit and Grand Counties," said Karn Stiegelmeier, Summit County Commissioner. "It was so important to me and my fellow commissioners to be a part of the effort to make Highway 9 safer for our visitors, the residents of our county, our employees, indeed, for everyone who travels between our two counties."
"Not only will Highway 9 be safer, but the bike paths will be a great new recreational opportunity for visitors to Grand and Summit Counties," added Larry Lunceford, a member of the Safe Highway 9 Committee. "This is a great economic development opportunity for the Lower Blue River Valley."
Two 66' x 24' x 100' BEBO® Concrete Arch Systems were selected as wildlife crossings over the highway. Five 41' x 10'-7 7/8" x 66' CON/SPAN® O-Series® Bridge Systems were selected for wildlife crossings under the highway. All of the precast structures were selected for the cost savings and speed of installation. During installation of the BEBO structure, traffic was temporarily flagged on the highway while the precast units were lowered into place via cranes.
"You have to admire the innovative and creative design CDOT has engineered for the highway," said Kathy Connell, a member of the Transportation Commission representing the Northwest Region of Colorado. "The design is impressive, but just as impressive is the grassroots support the project has received. This is a model for public-private partnerships."
In October 2013, this project was selected by the State Transportation Commission for Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) funding to fast track the improvements. To qualify for RAMP, local governments must raise 20% of the total project cost and submit an application explaining why the project should be fast tracked to completion. Further funding for this project was provided by the CDOT, Grand and Summit counties, the towns of Kremmling and Silverthorne, businesses, Blue Valley Ranch Conservation for Wildlife and Agriculture, and private individuals including billionaire hedge fund manager Paul T. Jones II, whose parents were killed in an accident involving wildlife.
Before construction began, a monitoring program was put into place to gather information on wildlife mortality both before and after construction. Even though the effectiveness of wildlife overpasses and underpasses have been proven in other states, this project raised doubts among the public who wondered, would wildlife actually use the structures? That question was soon answered as, just weeks after the completion of the first wildlife overpass in the state, mule deer began utilizing the overpass even before it had been seeded with native vegetation. Mule deer were also recorded using the jumpouts, which are one-way ramps that allow animals trapped within the road corridor to escape by jumping to the safe side of the fence. Monitoring of the wildlife crossings will continue for the next five years providing researchers with ample time to document any changes in the number of wildlife mortalities due to vehicle collisions and the number of wildlife utilizing the over and underpasses. The project began in April 2015 and is scheduled for completion in July 2017.
"Highway 9 will be safer for generations to come," concluded Bumgarner. "It feels so good to know that our family, friends and all the great people who visit our part of Colorado will travel here feeling safe and secure far into the future."