State hopes for luck on Hwy. 13

Regional transportation officials are hoping to put together more than $80 million in state and federal funding to make safety upgrades on Colorado Highway 13, which besides being an important north-south corridor also serves as part of a detour route during Interstate 70 closures.

The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to apply for $21 million from the federal Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program, and the state Transportation Commission has committed to spend up to $60 million in matching funding if the federal money is received.

The work would occur in phases and cover several stretches of the road, including mile markers 11 to 23 north of Rifle and crossing into Rio Blanco County, mile markers 70 to 76 in Moffat County between Craig and Meeker, and mile markers 111 to 123 south of the Wyoming border.

The work varies somewhat from section to section, but generally includes adding 8-foot-wide shoulders, rumble strips and wildlife fencing, and improving curves. Passing and acceleration/deceleration lanes are planned where Highway 13 intersects Rio Blanco County Road 5, a main access point for oil and gas development in that county. A chain-up area and passing lanes would be installed for the climb north of Rifle, and wildlife underpasses are planned in Garfield County.

Dave Eller, director of CDOT’s Region 3 in northwest Colorado, told Garfield County commissioners Monday that the agency has been working on those stretches for 20 years, but work has been limited to perhaps two miles every couple of years due to funding limitations.

Getting the federal grant “would be a significant win for that corridor,” he said.

But CDOT officials say there’s a lot of competition for TIGER grants. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, makes $500 million in TIGER discretionary grant funding available nationwide. Eller said that in Colorado, it’s hard to compete for funding with projects involving large traffic volumes on the Front Range.

But he said the application will point to the high number of accidents that occur on Highway 13, many involving wildlife, and others including some recent fatal accidents north of Rifle, where motorists try to pass other vehicles heading up Rio Blanco Hill and limited sight distance is a factor.

CDOT also plans to highlight the results of a risk resiliency study of I-70 in Colorado that found two of the highest-risk segments in terms of natural disasters such as flood, fire and rockfall are Glenwood and De Beque canyons.

“When we close either side of I-70, 13 is the corridor that takes on the traffic,” he said.

Highway 13 has seen heavy traffic during past shutdowns in Glenwood Canyon due to rockfall. Mark Rogers, CDOT planning manager for Region 3, said the need to upgrade Highway 13 is “a critical safety issue,” and pointed to emergency funding that has had to go to the road due to traffic from I-70 shutdowns.

Garfield commissioners on Monday agreed to support the state’s federal grant application. Commissioner John Martin called the part of the road heading from Rifle to Rio Blanco County “a very crucial section” of highway, while Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted the role it plays in providing access to oil and gas fields.

“I’m concerned and surprised by the number of accidents we have on that section of road, including fatalities,” Jankovsky said.

Jankovsky also pointed out to CDOT officials this week the poor condition of Colorado Highway 139 on the Garfield County portion of the road going over Douglas Pass between Rangely and Mesa County. He worried that it suffers from being “kind of out of sight, out of mind” because of its far-west location in the transportation planning region that includes Garfield County.

Eller said he hears a lot of comments that it’s one of the worst roads in the region. He said the challenge again is the low traffic volume it gets, which affects the ability to pay for improvements.

He said part of the highway is scheduled to undergo major surface work next year, but it won’t cover the whole section that’s needed, and won’t go over the top of the pass. Eller said maintenance crews “did quite a bit of patching up there” this year.

He said CDOT has been trying to get federal highway grants intended to pay for work on roads that access a lot of federal lands, noting in the case of Colorado Highway 139 the fact that it leads to public lands including Dinosaur National Monument. But traffic volume continues to prove the obstacle to getting grants, he said.

Nevertheless, “we are going to focus a little more money up there,” Eller said.

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