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Civil Constructors Opens Ski Roads

Sat January 01, 2000 - West Edition
Troy M. Hawks

US Highway 6 in Summit County, CO, is far from your average highway. This 4.2-kilometer (2.6 mi.) section of Hwy 6 leads millions of powder hungry skiers to two of the country’s largest ski areas, which is part of the reason why contractor Civil Constructors, headquarted in Illinois, has stopped working on the road until next spring.

Each winter skiers from around the world come to Colorado to enjoy the solitude of Keystone Resort’s 1,361 acres of skiable terrain, while others come to challenge themselves at Arapaho Basin, which offers the highest lift-served ski terrain in North America. The area offers visitors breathtaking views of the Continental Divide as well as white-knuckle terrain for advanced skiers.

Although taken in July 1998, the latest traffic count on the two-lane highway, according by Bob Tenney of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), tallied 12,533 motorists. However, that number can more than double in the winter, especially during holiday weekends such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, when millions of skiers flock to this part of Colorado.

Taking this high volume of traffic into consideration, Civil Constructors stopped working on the highway in October, despite being only 60-percent finished with the widening project.

According to Israel Almodovar, Civil’s project engineer, the contractor had originally anticipated having all four lanes open to traffic well before the start of the oncoming winter ski season when it began the project last spring. Yet after an unusually rainy summer and complications with installing utilities, Civil reported in late summer that the $5-million project would not be complete before the ski season, which normally kicks off during Thanksgiving weekend.

With this, Civil, CDOT and the local ski areas determined that in order to avoid impeding traffic flow and ski area business, the work should be discontinued until after the ski season. Currently two lanes are open to traffic.

Of course another factor behind halting the construction work, is the snow. At a base elevation of 9,300-feet, Keystone reports an average of 230 inches of snow each year.

Meanwhile Arapaho Basin, with a summit elevation of 13,050 feet, receives over 360 inches of snow annually and boasts one of the longest ski seasons in North America, sometimes lasting well into July. This alone was reason enough to convince Civil to halt its construction until next year.

In all, the project required widening the two-lane highway to four-lanes, and replacing a bridge and building a box culvert that required 7,000 cubic meters (9,100 cu. yd.) of concrete. The bridge spans an area where the Snake River enters the 3,300-acre Dillon Reservoir, a man-made lake that serves as the largest water supply facility for the Denver metropolitan area.

According to Almodovar, working near these two pristine mountain water resources raised several environmental concerns, and the project requires extensive wetland mitigation that will be completed next spring. The work will include incorporating vegetation and over 70,000 cubic meters (91,000 cu. yd.) of embankment materials to slow down erosion in the area.

The bridge also lies near an enormous shale hill, which according to Almodovar, proved harder to excavate than the contractor had originally expected. While the surface of the hill is made of broken shale, the base of the hill is one giant shale rock. Civil had to use blast charges in order to make room for the two additional lanes of traffic. These shale materials were then also used as embankment material.

In short, the ski industry has a tremendous impact on this stretch of highway, especially considering its phenomenal growth in this area. Since its acquirement from Vail Resorts, which lies just 45 miles west of Summit County on Interstate-70, Keystone alone has undergone an incredible expansion.

In just the last five years, it has added a massive pedestrian village filled with retail stores, restaurants, and a microbrewery, several multi-story condominium buildings and private homes. And this is just the start of what is planned for the next ten years. Yet with the addition of two lanes to US Hwy 6, skiers should have no problem getting to the slopes well into the next century.

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