Construction to connect U.S. highways 550 and 160 using the so called Bridge to Nowhere could start in late 2019.
The $98.6 million project will require about two years to complete, said Mike McVaugh, regional director for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The new alignment will allow CDOT to abandon the steep and dangerous Farmington Hill to instead tie in with the Grandview Interchange, which is welcome news to John Jackson, owner of Mancos-based Lucky J Transport.
“A freezing rain on that hill becomes a nightmare for everybody,” he said. The realignment has been needed for 30 years, Jackson said this week at an open house CDOT held to update residents about the project.
The new alignment will have less than a 4 percent grade, which will be far safer than Farmington Hill’s existing 6-plus percent grade, McVaugh said.
The new alignment is about 1½ miles long and will require two bridges to cross large drainages as it climbs the edge of Florida Mesa, he said. CDOT also plans to rebuild about 3 miles of Highway 550 south to make it two lanes in each direction with shoulders to allow drivers to pull over, if necessary, he said.
Two measures on the November ballot aimed at increasing funding for transportation across the state could allow CDOT to rebuild more of Highway 550 south, McVaugh said.
Proposition 110 asks voters to raise the state sales tax by 0.62 percent (6 cents per $10 purchase) for 20 years. The measure would allow the state to spend about $7 billion on construction projects over seven to 10 years.
Proposition 109, entitled “Fix Our Damn Roads,” would require the state to use its surplus funds and reprioritize spending toward road infrastructure.
The question would allow the state to bond for $3.5 billion to use on projects over three years. It would not create a new funding stream to pay back the debt.
If voters approve one or both of these measures, it could allow CDOT to widen Highway 550 to four lanes (two in each direction) to County Road 302, about 4.3 miles south of the Farmington Hill intersection, McVaugh said.
Regardless of what voters decide on the two ballot measures, the $98.6 million in funding for the realignment project is secure, he said.
The two bridges to be built along the edge of the mesa are responsible for a large portion of the project’s price tag, he said.
It costs about $1,000 per square foot to build a bridge, which means just one of the bridges will require $30 million, he said.
The agency also expects it will spend between $15 million to $20 million to move 1.5 million cubic yards of earth to connect Highway 550 with the Grandview Interchange, he said.
CDOT plans to abandon Farmington Hill, and the ownership will revert to La Plata County, McVaugh said. The county must determine future uses for the road.
The first visible construction on the realignment will likely be the excavation on the edge of the mesa facing Highway 160, said Kevin Curry, Region 5 program engineer.
To help mitigate collisions with wildlife, CDOT plans to build two wildlife underpasses, a landscaped overpass for animals and wildlife fencing along the length of the project, McVaugh said.
Animals move between the Animas River and the top of the Florida Mesa, and the underpasses and overpass will be able to accommodate them, he said.
Gray Thrash, who lives near Elmore’s Corner, said he has observed a need for more wildlife underpasses and overpasses along area highways. Roadkill seems to be a particularly common occurrence at the bottom of Farmington Hill, he said.
Once the project is complete, he expects to use Highway 550 to go to Farmington instead of alternatives because it will be faster, he said.