Cottonwood Pass on Labor Day

The sun sets on the closed road barricade atop Cottonwood Pass on Labor Day, Sept. 4. The Gunnison County side has been closed all season as the west side paving project began its 2-year endeavor. The Chaffee County side will be closed next season from the Avalance Trailhead for repaving.

The Gunnison County Board of Commissioners voted to delay the opening of the western slope side of Cottonwood Pass until June 22 due to safety concerns, said Gunnison County deputy manager Marlene Crosby.

After that, the road that winds down from crossing the Continental Divide past Taylor Park to the town of Gunnison is scheduled to open, but with delays as crews work to complete paving the road.

“Initially the contractor had planned to be back at work by mid- to late-April, but with the amount of snow we do not know yet whether or not that will happen,” Crosby said.

Cottonwood Pass has been closed to through traffic since 2017 for a project to repave the eastern side, Chaffee County Road 306, for the first time since the 1980s, and pave Gunnison County Road 206 to the west for the first time.

Construction on the east side began in earnest in June last year with the closing of the road at Avalanche Trailhead. By late November, the road was opened to its seasonal closure at Denny Creek.

During construction on the pass, crews laid an underground conduit that now stretches roughly 40 miles over the Continental Divide between the two towns, completing a long-desired loop bringing infrastructural redundancy – and therefore greater reliability – to the southern Western Slope.

What’s left now is to pull the fiber-optic cable itself through the conduit system, and “there will be a full connection by early summer,” said Tim Kunkleman, CenturyLink’s director of state regulatory affairs.

Chaffee County paid about $2 million for the project out of a total project cost of $18.6 million. The Gunnison County project is estimated to cost over $27 million, with that county also paying a small percentage.

Funding for the project comes primarily the federal government through the Federal Lands Access Program, which offers improvements for access routes to federally-owned land that are themselves owned by non-federal entities like counties.

Initially phased for both sides to complete their projects simultaneously in time for the 2019 summer season, paving of the Gunnison side was delayed by cold temperatures this past winter.

Crosby said that the road will open before paving is complete and the road will be paved with single-lane closures.

Greg Frazier of United Companies, the contractor for the Gunnison County side of the project, told commissioners that the plan is to begin snow removal this month and begin work including piping, conduit, topsoil, road base and paving in May, according to minutes from the Guinnison County Commission’s Feb. 5 meeting.

Frazier told commissioners that, for safety reasons, he wanted to have the road base down before opening, which would allow the contractor to pave the road while open for through traffic.

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