Officials seek bypass for Parachute

Parachute officials who had hoped President Obama’s stimulus plan would bring them a new freeway interchange said the state passed them by when it came to handing out the federal

A new interchange about a mile and a half west of Exit 75, which provides access to Parachute and to Battlement Mesa on the opposite side of the Colorado River, would give heavy drilling equipment a route around Parachute and preserve access for both communities, officials said.

Access issues and approval of the plan by the Federal Highway Administration have been resolved, and an environmental study is nearly complete.

“All that lacks is final engineering and completion of the bid process, and we can be ready to move dirt by the summer of 2009,” Parachute Mayor Roy McClung wrote to the Colorado Transportation Commission.

Parachute officials have complained to state government that they need relief because Exit 75 takes heavy drilling equipment through downtown on its way up Garfield County Road 215, which leads through Parachute and into the Piceance Basin, where as many as 102 drill rigs were operating as of late last year.

Colorado Transportation Department officials said they support the $15 million project, but priorities are set by the Transportation Commission with the help of local transportation planning regions.

Parachute’s interchange now sits on the state’s C list of projects that might get funded if there is money left over or if some states reject money, as some governors have said they will do.

The Transportation Commission on Feb. 20 allocated $317 million from economic stimulus money to 48 projects across Colorado.

The Parachute interchange wasn’t on the list, and McClung said he wants to know why the town was overlooked.

One problem is the project wasn’t presented by the staff.

The omission was an oversight, said Weldon Allen, director of the Transportation Department’s Grand Junction-based District 3.

“I goofed up,” Allen said.

The transportation department staff supports the project, Allen said, and wants to get it completed.

The commission, however, ought to have known about the Parachute interchange.

“This is not a hidden project,” Town Manager Bob Knight said. “Everybody understands that Exit 75 is a nightmare.”

About $1.2 million worth of work will begin in the coming weeks to widen the ramps at Exit 75 and improve the main interchange, Allen said.

A slackening pace in drilling in the Piceance has taken some pressure off, but McClung said the interchange, which serves about 8,000 residents in Battlement Mesa and Parachute, still gets backed up.

“During periods of high traffic volume, we regularly have traffic backed up onto the travel lanes of the interstate,” McClung wrote. “It is just a matter of time before we have a fatality.”


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