A major project to improve the safety of U.S. Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling is continuing to gain traction.
Just recently, the Colorado Department of Transportation Commission approved $450,000 in funding for buying private property along the right of way to widen the road between mile marker 126 and mile marker 137.
The purpose of buying the property would be to eventually add 8-foot shoulders, improve roadway alignment and bring the road up to current design standards.
CDOT plans to start pursuing property acquisition as soon as possible, according to CDOT spokesperson Ashley Mohr.
The commission views the Highway 9 project as one deserving of funding because of danger on the road with wildlife encounters and a highway that does not meet standards, Mohr said. The commission also recognized the project's degree of local buy-in and views the project as being a first for Colorado in terms of wildlife-crossing solutions.
The design plans include a total of seven wildlife crossings in the form of two overpasses and five underpasses. Although underpasses can be found elsewhere in Colorado since they also serve drainage purposes, the two overpasses would be the first of their kind in the state.
The funding to purchase private land along the highway piggybacks a large private contribution of $805,000 for preliminary planning made in spring 2012. The Blue Valley Ranch outside Kremmling, owned by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul T. Jones II of Greenwich, Conn., donated the money to get the project "shelf ready" for when there may be state and federal funding available to construct the improvements.
Project construction would run an estimated $40 million, according to CDOT.
The Transportation Commission's allocation is an "amazing start for us just to get the project moving forward," said Mohr. The project is still in the design phase.
"For the amount of travel this highway gets, for the amount of fatalities and the safety concerns, it is a priority for us," she said.
The Grand County section of highway was selected among the top 100 miles in Colorado as being heavily impacted by wildlife migration.
Actual construction could still be years away, Mohr said. "But we're doing our best to have it ready so if that funding becomes available, we can jump on it."