ESTES PARK – Thirty days of rain out of 50 days in May and the first half of June have created some headaches for the swarm of tourists negotiating their way through construction projects on the streets of the mountain village, but the town’s public-works director says contractors are doing their best to keep most of the work on schedule.
“The rain has been a challenge, making things really muddy,” said Greg Muhonen, but the work crews are “doing a great job of dealing with that adversity and being creative.”
The primary road project is the Downtown Estes Loop, a one-way couplet designed to speed summer traffic to and from Rocky Mountain National Park. When the project is completed — hopefully by January 2025, Muhonen said Thursday — westbound traffic on U.S. Highway 36 through the town’s business district and toward the park will follow its current routing west on Elkhorn Avenue, then south and west on Moraine Avenue. Eastbound traffic out of the park will exit Moraine through a roundabout onto West Riverside Drive, then roughly northward on West Riverside, over a new bridge at Ivy Street onto East Riverside Drive, and reconnect with Elkhorn across from Bond Park.
Both Ivy Street and Riverside Drive are likely to be open by the end of this month, Muhonen said. Next will come installation of what Muhonen called a “mechanically stabilized earth retaining wall” on the south edge of Moraine at the curve near the Fun City attraction in preparation for construction of the roundabout. The contractor, Broomfield-based Flatiron Construction, then will “start a series of phased concrete pours to create the roundabout,” Muhonen said. That work should be done by the end of September, he said.
At a community meeting Tuesday to provide updates on the project for downtown business owners and the general public, Flatiron spokesperson Lynn Martens said the company was hopeful that the roundabout would be completed before the start of next year’s tourist season.
Beginning in July, Flatiron will relocate gas lines near Elkhorn Avenue to aid installation of new traffic signals and landscaping. Cody Pyette, an engineer assigned to the project, told town-hall attendees that the work will be conducted at night to avoid impacts on traffic during the day.
Muhonen told the meeting that, “once complete walkability will be vastly improved, businesses impacted will see much more traffic and there will be new, slanted parking on Moraine.”
The next phase will include resurfacing of Moraine and Elkhorn avenues and Rockwell Drive.
Construction of the loop originally was expected to begin in 2016, but fierce community controversy and a lengthy process for acquiring additional rights of way for the project delayed the scheduled start of work until 2018, then 2021. New Federal Emergency Management Agency modeling and mapping procedures for the revised floodplains within the project, triggered by the September 2013 Front Range deluge, further delayed permit applications and pushed the start of construction back two more years.
Then last October, Muhonen stunned trustees when he revealed that the lowest of two bids he received to complete the project — more than $27 million — far exceeded the $15.7 million estimate consulting engineers had made in July 2022. In November, trustees agreed to spend an extra $1 million of the town’s money to match an extra $1 million from CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships program and a supplementary infusion of $9.3 million from the Federal Lands Access Program.
On Thursday, Muhonen said “I’ve not heard any discussion about any change orders or cost increases for the project.”
Weather has been more of an issue on the east edge of Estes Park, where Muhonen acknowledged that construction of a roundabout at U.S. 36 and Community Drive near the fairgrounds is behind schedule and will not be completed by the originally announced date.
“It will not open on June 30 as expected,” Muhonen said Thursday. “We had six inches of rain in 30 days. It made construction impossible in many situations.”
That project’s contractor, Platteville-based Mountain Constructors, “has 36 down to one lane by Community Drive and plans to open it up by the end of this week” and have it open through July, Muhonen said, “but may have to close it down again later.”
Even with the constricted flow as tourists from the Front Range urban corridor enter Estes Park, he said, traffic has been “moving well except since last Sunday, when we had the combination of good weather, Father’s Day, a marathon and a rockslide” on Colorado Highway 7.