Summit County Highway 9 project could create four continuous lanes from I-70 to Breckenridge

A $10 million highway project between Frisco and Breckenridge has been slated for state funding, potentially uncorking a chronic traffic bottleneck near the hospital and establishing four continuous lanes from Interstate 70 to Main Street in Breckenridge.

The Iron Springs project of Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Friso seen a month before it was completed in November. A follow-up project that would finally create four lanes between I-70 and Breckenridge has tentatively received funding.

The project, known colloquially as "the gap," would put a finishing touch on the Iron Springs bypass, a re-route of Colorado Highway 9 between Farmer's Korner and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center that was finished in November. To the frustration of some drivers, the highway still returns to one lane in each direction near Frisco.

Funding for the gap project isn't final yet, but the Colorado Department of Transportation confirmed it is one of 11 slated to receive money from a $1.9 billion funding package passed by the State Legislature in the spring.

The provisional list of projects also includes $80 million of improvements to westbound I-70 in Clear Creek County that would add peak period shoulder lanes. Those have already been built on the east side, where they have eased congestion.

That could also benefit the Summit County economy, but the gap project is the top-ticket item for local transportation officials. Until a couple of weeks ago, it was unclear how it would ever get funding.

"Our highest priority is definitely the Highway 9 gap project," said Summit County public works director Tom Gosiorowski. "CDOT has money to complete the design, and we were all hopeful that money would magically somehow turn up for construction. The good news is that now it looks like it has."

Last month, CDOT placed the gap on its list of projects mandated for completion by the Sustainability of Rural Colorado Act, or Senate Bill 267, a sprawling piece of legislation that included nearly $2 billion in road funding over several years.

State officials are still confirming whether or not the full amount will materialize, because it was secured through lease-purchase agreements on public buildings. If all goes according to plan, the first batch of road money would roll in next July.

"The best case schedule would be if construction funds become available in the first part of 2019, the project could advertise for bids beginning in June of 2020," a CDOT spokeswoman said in an email. "We are expecting two seasons of construction for this final corridor project."

It could still be a while before shovels hit the ground, but the decision eases uncertainty among transportation officials that the project would languish unfunded for years.

"That sounds like a long way out, but that is actually as fast as this possibly could have gone," Gosiorowski said. "Had there not been a source of construction money, it could've gone on for years and years. So everybody's really excited."

Just a month ago, funding for the gap seemed like it might be a long shot. CDOT has roughly $9 billion in unfunded project across the state, and the legislature failed to reach a grand funding bargain during its last session.

Instead, it passed SB 267 as a stopgap, but it wasn't clear until now where the money would actually ago. A combined $450 million is provisionally slated for improvements to I-25 on the Front Range, while the rest of the money is set aside for rural counties.

The money is effectively a loan that CDOT would later have to pay back, unless the legislature finds another funding solution. But for now, local officials are just glad that the gap made the cut in an extremely competitive time for roadwork.

"CDOT had begun working on the design of the gap project before Iron Springs had even completed, so we were kind of taking steps to get the gap teed up for construction," Gosiorowski said. "But until recently, we always had this uncertainty about where the construction money was going to come from."

If the gap project goes through, it would eliminate the bottleneck between the County Commons in Frisco and the intersection at the entrance to SASMC.

It could also include overhauls of the intersections between Highway 9 and the traffic light for the county commons, at Peak One Blvd., and 8th Avenue in Frisco, a tricky turnoff that serves the southern half of town as well as a school and a fire station.

Designs for the project are only about 30 percent complete, Gosiorowski said. But engineers are looking at possibly putting in a traffic light or roundabout at 8th Avenue and Highway 9 and replacing the Peak One Blvd light with a roundabout.

All told, the project would significantly remake the well-travelled route from I-70 to Breckenridge and ease the choke point that slows traffic outside of Frisco to crawl during peak hours.

The project would also include bike, pedestrian, transit and drainage improvements, as well as noise walls near residential areas, the CDOT spokeswoman said. A public meeting will be held in the spring to present the design.

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