U.S. 34 to Estes Park reopens Thursday for the summer | MyWindsorNow.com

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U.S. 34 to Estes Park reopens Thursday for the summer

U.S. 34 reconstruction by the numbers

Accomplishments from the first closure include:

» 380,007 cubic yards of rock blasted and hauled.

» 92,380 personnel hours worked to date without an accident.

» 458 anchor bolts installed to hold the rocks in place.

» 300,000 pounds of explosives used.

» 2,540 permits issued to canyon residents.

» More than 119,000 total permitted vehicles passed through the work zone.

» 23,750 truck haul loads.

» 38,412 miles driven by pilot car operators.

» 1,055 emails received through the project email account.

» More than 5,320 calls to the project hotline.

» 63 times the project either extended permitted travel times or opened the canyon to everyone.

» 278 days worked

» 260 special escorts made for people living within the closure limits.

Source: Colorado Department of Transportation

When U.S. 34 reopens to Estes Park on Thursday, Big Thompson Canyon will get a lot busier.

Colorado Department of Transportation officials have kept the road west of Loveland closed for the past six months — excepting special and holiday openings — while Kiewit Infrastructure Co. crews reconstructed portions of the highway damaged in the 2013 floods.

On Thursday, the road, which connects Loveland to Estes Park and a number of mountain communities, will open for the summer before closing again from October to May 2018.

U.S. 34 reconstruction work essentially has reached the halfway point. Although the project still has a lot of work ahead, officials wanted to make a big push to open for the summer tourism season, said CDOT Project Director James Usher.

During the highway's closure, U.S. 36 took over as the main route into and out of Estes Park. However, U.S. 36 can't handle the demands of summer tourism traffic on its own. Without U.S. 34 open for the summer, U.S. 36 would become a parking lot at high-traffic times, Usher said.

Usher estimates U.S. 34 handles about 10,000 daily trips through the Big Thompson Canyon area during the summer months.

Although work crews made significant progress leading up to the summer, the project will need another six-month closure to finish a number of large projects, Usher said.

During the past six months, crews blasted and hauled away about 380,000 cubic yards of rock — which comes out to nearly 20,000 concrete truck loads — working to create secure and reliable routes along sections of bedrock through the canyon.

The goal, Usher said, is to create a road system that will ensure at least limited access for emergency vehicles and evacuations through the canyon in the case of a natural disaster.

During this past closure, crews also started work on the Horseshoe bridge structure, near mile post 78 east of Drake, which will realign the highway through the mountain and farther away from the river.

Work on the bridge will finish when U.S. 34 closes again in October. Along with the bridge, crews still need to complete a number of projects, including strengthening the road and bedrock at the east end of the canyon, river widening work near Drake and paving of the entire corridor, according to CDOT documents.