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CDOT looks for approval from Garfield and Eagle Counties on proposed Cottonwood Pass improvements

A street sign indicating the entrance to cottonwood pass road in Gypsum in Eagle COunty
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
The entrance to Cottonwood Pass Road in Gypsum is paved, but much of County Road 10A in Eagle County and County Roads 100 and 113 in Garfield County are dirt.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

This summer, the Colorado Department of Transportation hopes to make improvements to the county roads over Cottonwood Pass. The pass, which runs between Carbondale and Gypsum, includes county roads in both Garfield and Eagle Counties. It is paved in some places and dirt in others.

The two counties identified 14 areas that posed the greatest safety issues to drivers. Eight of those are in Garfield County, on County Roads 100 and 113, and the other six are in Eagle County, on County Road 10A known as Cottonwood Pass Road. CDOT officials are hoping to soften some of the sharper curves along the road, as well as widen the road and improve sightlines to make it safer for drivers.

CDOT officials say the planned minor improvements are not a part of any effort to make the road an official detour when Interstate 70 closes at Glenwood Canyon.

“Our goal is safety improvements — not changing the character of the road, not finding a way to get more trucks there. It’s really just safety improvements in these 14 areas,” CDOT engineer Karen Berdoulay told Eagle County’s board of commissioners.

Nonetheless, residents and officials in both Eagle and Garfield Counties are concerned about Cottonwood Pass serving as a de facto detour anyways — as it was last summer, when mudslides closed the canyon for weeks.

Missouri Heights resident Lori Brandon expressed such concerns to Garfield County commissioners at an April meeting.

“I think that the local safety issues are very valid concerns that need attention, but it’s very hard to separate it from the fact that it does become an alternate route,” she said.

 A sign on Cottonwood Pass Road in Gypsum warns drivers that the county does not maintain the road during the winter months.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
A sign on Cottonwood Pass Road in Gypsum warns drivers that the county does not maintain the road during the winter months.

The two counties last week held a joint meeting during which they discussed the proposed improvements. Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky expressed his gratitude to Eagle County for all the work they did in managing the influx of traffic on Cottonwood Pass Road, particularly on a steep and narrow portion of it known as Blue Hill.

“When you take your county, our county and Pitkin County, there’s 140 thousand residents that need to go east and west without having to go back through Rifle and up through Steamboat Springs, so thanks for that,” he said.

“Teachers and nurses and doctors and folks that need to get to work,” Eagle County Commissioner Jeane McQueeney said of those commuters.

“And people that have medical appointments as well,” Jankovsky said.

Berdoulay told Eagle County commissioners that they would be reimbursed for all of the flagging and traffic management that they did last summer. She also said part of the goal of the improvements was to prevent the need for that kind of manpower from the counties in the future.

“What expenses will the counties likely incur, and if they spend money on improvements now, will that somehow reduce the cost in the future?” she said. “For example, widening the road — so there’s no flagging needed in certain areas — will that then reduce flagging in the future?”

Missouri Heights residents such as Lori Brandon are particularly concerned that even minor improvements will increase traffic on the rural road.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin shared those concerns.

“And if we were to pave that and make it beautiful and smooth and what have you, there would be those that would just absolutely love that, and then there would be those that say ‘Bring back my potholes because I have too much traffic, they go too fast,’ etc.”

CDOT officials say they are working for the counties here, and they want to make sure residents are pleased with the improvements. They plan to do surveys and other outreach efforts to get resident feedback on the desired outcome for the project. If all goes according to plan, CDOT officials say the improvements will be complete by the spring of 2023.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.