De Beque cutoff road needs fixing, engineers say

Mesa County planners and engineers hope to land state energy impact money to straighten out a particularly curvy section of the De Beque Cutoff Road, which connects Colorado Highway 65 with Interstate 70.

The first phase of the planned road realignment — between mileposts 2 and 2.6 of what’s officially called 45.5 Road — would not likely happen until the 2014-15 timeframe, even if the county is successful in getting the $700,000 energy impact grant from the state.

There are a number of reasons for pursuing the project, county officials say.

The Cutoff Road is highly used by large energy industry vehicles, which often require an escort through the switchback section set for replacement. Traffic traveling in the opposite direction is often blocked, officials say, when trucks are required to negotiate the tight sections of the road.

Axia Energy is one company which wrote a letter of support for the project. “Due to safety concerns with severe switchbacks on 45.5 Road, our drilling rig moves and oversized loads must be re-routed down I-70 and up (Colorado 65),” they wrote.

The detour capability of the Cutoff Road is another prime reason identified by the county. It calls the road “the only detour route for I-70 when the freeway must be closed in the De Beque Canyon area.”

“Without this route, I-70 traffic would need to be detoured hundreds of miles,” the county wrote in its grant application.

The last time a closure like that happened was last year, and the county said its staff and law enforcement officers were forced to stop traffic in one direction at times to allow a convoy of semi tractor-trailers to maneuver the switchback section.

A rockfall in 2010 also prompted a similar detour, the county said, which increased traffic volume on the Cutoff Road from 543 vehicles to more than 5,800.

The accident rate on the road is also a concern for county engineers; it’s 2.82 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled along 45.5 Road, compared to the county average of just 1.48.

If the grant is awarded and the project moves forward, county engineers expect limited delays, with few, if any, total closures of the road. Most delays will be caused by having to limit traffic to one lane while construction is ongoing, planners said.


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