State may fix bends on I-70 near De Beque, if funds found

Traffic flies past a sign warning of sharp curves ahead on Interstate 70 east of Palisade on Tuesday. The Colorado Department of Transportation has proposed a project to correct what’s known as the Palisade curves. An assessment of the project is slated to begin this summer.

It may take five years to get done, and that’s only if the state can find the money, but the Colorado Department of Transportation is eyeing doing something with the dangerous curves on Interstate 70 in De Beque Canyon.

They are known as the Palisade curves.

They stretch between mile markers 42 and 46. In the middle is the very sharp turn on I-70 at mile marker 44 near the eastern exit to Palisade.

They are dangerous, in part, because motorists aren’t slowing down as they should despite signs warning them to do so, CDOT officials said.

That’s why there are so many accidents there. As a result, CDOT wants to find an alternative way to make that section of highway safer, said Shailen Bhatt, executive director of the department.

Bhatt was in the canyon Tuesday with several CDOT workers and local officials to kick off a project to study what, if anything, can be done either with realigning the curves to make them less sharp, or looking at other ways to slow down traffic.

Thankfully, speed bumps won’t be involved, Bhatt promised.

“What we’re starting on this project is the environmental assessment,” he told a crowd of people who gathered at a parking area at the western mouth of the canyon. “In that EA document, we will look at different alternatives to try to solve the problem, with safety being one of the top priorities. There’s a lot of details around those different alternatives that have to be evaluated.”

Bhatt said the project could cost about $40 million, but that could increase by at least another $10 million if a nearby bridge also would have to be redone.

Part of the problem is that the interstate curves so much because there’s a space issue. That is to say, there’s isn’t much between the walls of the canyon and the Colorado River.

The department has hired a special consultant that is to spend the next few months examining the matter, including what impacts any highway realignment might have on the region’s hydrology, namely the Government Highline Canal on the north side of the river and the Orchard Mesa Canal, which is on the south.

The consultant is to look at possible ways to flatten the curves, not only to accommodate future extra traffic lanes to give it more capacity, but also to improve travel times.

The consultant is to hold public hearings in the coming months to allow area residents and motorists a chance to have their say.

“You need two things to build a road,” Bhatt said. “You need an environmental document and you need the money, and we don’t have either right now.” Bhatt and David Eller, CDOT’s Region 3 director, which covers northwestern Colorado, said that while it’s possible the consultant will recommend that nothing be done about the curves, neither expected that to be the case.

The real issue, they said, will be in finding the money to pay for it all.

“The Legislature just put $1.88 billion into infrastructure,” Bhatt said. “To the average person, $1.88 billion is a lot of money, but to me ... the glass kind of gets half empty when you think about the $20 billion in needs that we have statewide.”

Elected officials from the Palisade Town Board and the Grand Junction City Council thanked CDOT for starting to study the project, the first necessary stage in getting it done.

Some of them also called for the department to include bike lanes going through the entire canyon, much like what was done in Glenwood Canyon, as a way to help boost the Grand Valley’s reputation as a haven for bicyclists and mountain bikers.


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