City: Miscommunication, COVID-19 to blame for extended delay in road closure |

City: Miscommunication, COVID-19 to blame for extended delay in road closure

Traffic backed up on Railroad Avenue in Rifle on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Rifle’s traffic congestion woes are likely to continue as the city recently agreed to extend the closure of Hospital Hill Road into summer.

During an April 21 board meeting, FCI Constructors Inc, hired by Grand River Health to construct the new Grand River Care Center, notified the city that construction won’t be finished until August.

Hospital Hill Road, which extends from Ash Avenue to U.S. Highway 6 at the south of the facility, was closed to traffic in 2018 when the project broke ground. Hospital Hill Road would be realigned, and the city contributed $250,000 to the roadway.

At the time, however, the city also understood that the roadway would be reopened by March 2021.

To add fuel to the fire, Rifle recently started construction on their downtown revitalization project, which has shut down a section of Railroad Avenue — the city’s main thoroughfare — for weeks. The closure is causing significant backups on roads like Whiteriver Avenue, West Avenue and Centennial Parkway, which are currently being used as alternative routes.

“I do hear a lot of frustration from people…” Mayor pro tem Theresa Hamilton said. “It’s a crazy time to be in Rifle right now.”

The downtown project, which has so far cost the city $3.8 million to help renovate several infrastructure needs in the area, won’t be completed until well into summer. So, with the continued closure of Railroad Avenue, motorists have been desperate to find at least one more alternative route.

E. Dene Moore Project: August 2021

Downtown Revitalization Project: June 2021

Centennial Bridge Project: First week of May 2021

ADA curves project: Early May 2021

“We’ve got a lot of construction going on and there’s a lot of angry people,” Council member Sean Strode said.

In addition to construction work on Railroad Avenue, a section of Highway 6 at the Centennial Bridge, which was slated to end construction in April, is still closed.

Councilmember Brian Condie said he was opposed to keeping the road closed and suggested the city reopen it and have FCI work around traffic.

“In the memo here it says it’s in the best interest of all parties to work together?” he said. “Where do the citizens fall into that? Because I don’t want to be like the federal government and two weeks of flattening the curves turns into over a year.”

City attorney Jim Neu said he was not given full details on the project timeline when planning first came about. He also said more communication is needed between the city, department heads and FCI.

Hamilton agreed.

“When the date comes and goes, it seems like we should be having those communications with those people involved and having council made aware of going on so we’re not blindsided by letters from citizens saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”

FCI also said the project was in fact scheduled to be completed by August and that the first phase of the project was only scheduled for March.

In addition to the miscommunication, FCI said the project was delayed more than two months due to COVID-related reasons, as well as asbestos and vermiculite abatement issues.

Meanwhile, Public Works Director Brian Prunty and FCI said 10,000 cubic yards of demolished building material and replacement with 11,000 cubic yards of fill material still needs to be brought out and into the project. The work still requires about 125 truck crossings per day for up to 25 days.

Hospital Hill Road, as well as surrounding roads, does run through a residential neighborhood. City Manager Scott Hannum said, with complaints increasing due to Rifle’s traffic issues, motorists using a prematurely opened Hospital Hill Road could pose a safety issue.

“The issue was brought up because obviously we have all this traffic congestion and they want to use that as a way to get around the existing traffic control,” he said. “People trying to use that bypass, they’re less patient and calm… I see definitely a risk of safety because of the people who are going to try and push through there.”

In addition, if it opened up now, Grand River Facility Supervisor Chad Wagner said it could prolong the project entirely.

“If we leave it closed, it would get done quicker,” he said.

Prunty also acknowledged that the project cannot be completed if Hospital Hill Road were to reopen too soon.

“Frankly, even if we were to open it now, we would have periods of closure,” he said. “There’s portions that cannot be built and could not be operated without closing. I think it’s very much in the interest of safety and the (expedience) of the project itself that the road remains closed.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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