Garfield County commissioners support improvements to Rifle-area highway |

Garfield County commissioners support improvements to Rifle-area highway

Garfield County commissioners on Monday joined the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and local municipalities in supporting a federal grant proposal for safety improvements on Colorado 13 north of Rifle to the Wyoming state line.

Using state and federal grant money, the proposal would address critical mobility and safety problems for a highway that was originally constructed in the 1950s and can no longer meet current standards or volumes.

The county and other entities were unsuccessful in obtaining a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant earlier this year. That program has now been replaced by what’s called the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) transportation grant program.

According to an analysis by CDOT, the Colorado 13 project is expected to cost around $100 million and will take four years to construct.

Among the issues the proposal will address include rehabilitating the pavement, adding paved shoulders and passing lanes, straightening sections to meet the 65 mph posted speed, and constructing facilities to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, among other goals.

The stretch of road between Rifle and Craig is a particularly deadly one.

A 19-year old lost his life in a crash in remote Rio Blanco County in June when an oncoming vehicle overcorrected into his lane and collided with him head-on. A month earlier, a Grand Junction man died on the highway in a single-vehicle wreck near Rifle, when he drove off the right side of the road and overcorrected into the southbound lane where he lost control and struck an embankment.

Colorado State Patrol public information officer Rich Duran said that as many as five fatal wrecks occurred on Colorado 13 in or near Garfield County last year between mile markers 5 and 18.

“The climb up the hill out of Rifle is the focus for our county, which is an area we’ve had issues with,” said County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky at Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting. “This is definitely needed. A lot of industrial traffic out of Garfield County is using that highway.”

According to information from CDOT, there are only 35 locations within the state identified as locations with truck crash rates higher than the statewide average for at least five years in a row, and Colorado 13 project would improve two of them.

The Colorado 13 corridor from Rifle north to the Rio Blanco County line will include roadway improvements for new passing lanes, curve straightening, shoulder widening, rumble strips, a chain-up station, drainage improvements, and wildlife mitigation that includes exclusion fencing, escape ramps and wildlife underpasses, according to information presented to the commissioners.

That work is expected to cost around $28 million.

According to CDOT data, from 2011 to 2017, that stretch of highway had 0.7 fatal crashes per year, 2.7 injury crashes per year, and four wild animal crashes per year.

The entire project will reconstruct Colorado 13, which connects rural western Colorado and Interstate 70 north to Interstate 80 in Wyoming. Specifically, the project would improve curved areas, install passing and other auxiliary lanes, designate chain-up and chain-down stations, add full-width paved shoulders, and include wildlife mitigation measures coordinated with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“I think this is a great project,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “I fully support it, and I know people that want to get from I-70 to I-80 through that area who will be really interested in this.”

According to the commissioners’ support letter:

“We depend on this corridor to facilitate tourism, recreation, and access to natural resources and to support agriculture activities for our economic livelihood. …

“We also rely on this corridor to provide access to the National Highway and Interstate Highway System in order to access metropolitan areas for many medical services that are not available in our rural environment.”

Garfield County joins Baggs, Wyoming, Colorado Motor Carriers Association, Associated Governments in Northwest Colorado, city of Craig, CPW, CSP and the town of Meeker, among others, to show support for the project.

Garfield County will be the grant applicant with CDOT committing the match. Garfield County is requesting $21 million in BUILD funds for the $97.7 million project (21.5 percent of the total costs), with CDOT drawing from other funding sources for the remaining funds (78.5 percent).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that the new BUILD transportation grant program would replace the TIGER, according to the USDOT.

“BUILD Transportation grants will help communities revitalize their surface transportation systems while also increasing support for rural areas to ensure that every region of our country benefits,” said USDOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao in announcing the program.

The deadline to submit the grant is July 19.

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