Government & Politics  July 28, 2022

Town Board actions pave way for Estes ‘loop’ bids

ESTES PARK – Ten years after it was first proposed and more than 5½ years after a divided Town Board approved it, construction of Estes Park’s one-way downtown “loop” is about to be put out for bids.

Greg Muhonen, Estes Park’s public works director, told BizWest on Thursday that he expects the town to advertise for bids by September, with construction to start by January. In a “best-case scenario,” he said, construction could take 18 months, with completion by summer of 2024.

Escalating cost estimates had pushed the expected completion date to fall 2025, prompting the Town Board to take a pair of actions Tuesday to shorten the time frame. The board approved extension of the time allowed for the noise of construction from 14 to 24 hours if certain criteria are met, and kicked in an additional $500,000 to guarantee matching federal funds.

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Downtown Estes Park experiences often daunting summer traffic jams as tourists on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park follow the route of U.S. Highway 36 toward the park’s Beaver Meadows entrance.

Under the downtown loop plan, westbound U.S. 36 traffic, toward the park, will use its currently designated route — west along Elkhorn Avenue through the downtown core of tourist shops and restaurants, then south and west on Moraine Avenue — but eastbound U.S. 36 will be diverted at the Moraine Avenue curve through a new roundabout onto West Riverside Drive, across a new bridge over the Big Thompson River at Ivy Street, then north on East Riverside Drive to reconnect with Elkhorn east of downtown.

Thanks to actions approved by the town on Tuesday, Muhonen said, the next steps will be 

finalizing the project design specifications, then advertising the project for bids, establishing the dates within which bids will be taken, “and, if  the bids are within budget, make an award to the appropriate bidder.”

The town’s noise ordinance had prohibited construction work between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. The revision in the noise ordinance, Muhonen said, came after an assessment of night construction versus daytime construction, and it was determined that working into the night was less impactful as a whole than another year of disruptive daytime work. One of the key contributors to the decision, he said, “is a restriction that doesn’t allow the contractor to shut down the highway during our busy summer season.

“We fully understand that there would be adverse effects to neighbors,” Muhonen said, “but we also know that work over multiple years would be another frustration.”

Muhonen originally proposed notifying any residents living within a 500-yard radius of the overnight noise before construction, but the board amended the ordinance to boost the notification radius to 1,000 yards.

Muhonen emphasized that the noise-ordinance revision simply allows overnight construction. “It’s not a mandate or directive,” he said, “It’s simply removing a regulatory obstacle that prohibited the option. How frequently will it happen? We don’t know yet.”

The other Town Board action Tuesday, the infusion of $500,000, will leverage an additional $3.5 million grant proposed by the Federal Highway Administration, which also will chip in an extra $1 million because of the town’s extra contribution.

Muhonen emphasized that “the cost of the job has gone up substantially “in requesting the extra money from the town, noting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply-chain disruptions, the spike in fuel costs and overall inflation. When initially approved in late fall  2016, the loop was expected to cost $17.2 million. By 2021, it had increased  to $22.58 million, Muhonen said, and today it stands at $30.8 million.

The Federal Highway Administration was willing to make the additional federal funds available, with the condition that the local agency has to pay for 17.2% and the Federal Lands Access Program would cover the rest, Muhonen said. FLAP pays for projects that help ease traffic flow to attractions such as national parks.

“You can’t put the project out to bid until you demonstrate you can pay for it,” Muhonen said.

Already completed is acquisition of all the rights-of-way and easements, he said, including eight full properties and 28 easements. “That has taken a long time,” he said. ”They all had to be evaluated and negotiated.

“It’s going to take more than just nighttime construction to get this thing done expediently,” Muhonen said. Other details include offering an early-completion incentive of $1 million to the winning contractor, getting the Colorado Department of Transportation to allow some daytime closures on portions of the route during the town’s less-trafficked “shoulder seasons,” and completion of the roundabout at the intersection of Moraine and Riverside.

“We’re hoping that if these accommodations are utilized, we could take a year off the time and be done in the summer of 2024,” Muhonen said. “The best-case scenario for construction is 18 months.”

ESTES PARK – Ten years after it was first proposed and more than 5½ years after a divided Town Board approved it, construction of Estes Park’s one-way downtown “loop” is about to be put out for bids.

Greg Muhonen, Estes Park’s public works director, told BizWest on Thursday that he expects the town to advertise for bids by September, with construction to start by January. In a “best-case scenario,” he said, construction could take 18 months, with completion by summer of 2024.

Escalating cost estimates had pushed the expected completion date to fall 2025, prompting the Town Board to take a pair…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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