Too much traffic going through Red Cliff
Commuters who refuse to take the detour around the Red Cliff Bridge project could be stopped or forced to pay fines soon.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has been ordering motorists who are not traveling to Red Cliff to use state Highway 91 through Copper Mountain instead of U.S. Highway 24. The bridge is closed until this summer for repairs, and some travelers, despite the warnings, are driving through the tiny town of Red Cliff.
Traffic heading into and out of Red Cliff has been reduced to one lane to make room for construction vehicles. Many are ignoring the detour, causing hour-long traffic delays as cars back up along the highway.
Leadville resident Lysa Gaston commutes to Eagle County every day for work. The detour adds 17 miles to her trip each way – and with today’s gas prices, it’s affecting her pocketbook, too.
Taking Highway 91 to Interstate 70 takes 15 minutes longer than her route did prior to the bridge closure; but then, waiting in traffic at the entrance to Red Cliff makes Highway 24 the less desirable way to go nowadays, she said.
“I’ve been stuck there for 20, 25 minutes at a time because they are moving equipment around,” Gaston said.
Along with frustrating motorists, the traffic congestion could delay the bridge repairs, said Matthew Cirulli, project manager with the contractor, Lawrence Construction.
“When we have to stop what we are doing to open up the road to let traffic through, that’s putting a halt on our work,” Cirulli said. “We’ve decided because of what was going on, we’re not going to open it up for traffic when we are doing something and we are in the middle of something crucial.”
That could eventually lead to two-hour traffic delays, Cirulli said.
The Colorado State Patrol has been patrolling Highway 24 since construction began on the bridge in April. If traffic continues to increase, officers will begin stopping motorists before they enter the town and force them to turn around. They may issue fines as well, said Keith Powers, a state transportation engineer.
About 2,500 vehicles drove on Highway 24 each day before the construction; the majority are commuters heading to the Vail Valley from Leadville and Red Cliff.
The detour was set up not only to avoid construction delays, but to prevent hordes of cars from traveling on Red Cliff’s narrow streets.
“Getting the bridge open as soon as possible is a priority, and we can’t do it if folks don’t take the detour,” Powers said. “In addition, the safety of the kids and residents of Red Cliff is even more important, and the increase in through-traffic is compromising that safety.”
Red Cliff residents, as well as anyone heading directly to the town, are still allowed to stay on Highway 24. Business owners in Red Cliff and Minturn have worried that the detour may cause people to avoid local businesses all together. While the construction is not near Minturn, the detour signs are posted on I-70 before the Minturn exit.
State transportation officials say the detour adds only about 20 minutes of travel time. Considering that congestion could lead to one- or two-hour delays, commuters might want to reconsider taking Highway 24, Cirulli said.
“When you factor that in, Highway 91 doesn’t seem that bad,” he said.
So far, the bridge is still scheduled to re-open to traffic on July 3.
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.