Motorists bound for points north to Ouray and beyond, rejoice: Red Mountain Pass reopened to full traffic Thursday evening.
For months, the Million Dollar Highway, a vital artery that connects Silverton and Ouray, has been clogged as workers and contractors introduced structural improvements to better protect drivers traveling U.S. Highway 550 just south of Ouray from falling rocks.
Defying conventional wisdom about construction projects, which have earned a reputation for ending months after their originally scheduled completion date, Colorado Department of Transportation’s team finished this project on time, with a day to spare.
“It’s terrific. I think we’re all glad that it opened on time,” CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said Thursday. “And I’m sure the towns of Ouray and Sivlerton are over the moon. In fact, the towns went up there today and did a little ribbon cutting.”
In a news release, CDOT Region 5 Transportation Director Kerri Need said, “The project team did a fantastic job. They met the target date for a full opening, and without compromising safety. We’re happy to get this critical highway back open, and we thank the Ouray and Silverton communities for their patience and support throughout.”
According to the release, in the second phase of construction, CDOT and contractor Midwest Rockfall accomplished the following:
Used a helicopter to place an additional 2,000 square feet of wire mesh on the slope north of the existing 31,000 square feet of wire mesh to help contain remaining loose rock.
Installed a rockfall fence at midslope, below the wire mesh. Then they painted the fence a tasteful shade of dark brown to blend into the hillside.
Removed the fence on the road to enable two-way travel.
Patched up all the damage done to the road, then paved and repainted highway lines and markings.
“We hope to not be back there for a long time,” Shanks said. “We might have to return in September to do a little work on a crib wall below the highway. And it’s unclear at this point whether we’ll need to do any additional mitigation work on the rockfall. But that will be determined at a later date.
“For now, we’re outta there!”