‘Be ready. Pay attention’ | New

Freeway construction projects take a break over holiday weekends, a fact that should encourage drivers looking for a quick getaway.

One of the most notorious places to experience a delay these days, for example, is US 50 between Montrose and Gunnison. It is a four mile stretch of causeway on a crucial highway connecting the West Rim and the Front Range. It is also the site of a major construction project, and therefore a place where one can expect a delay of at least 30 minutes on an east-west journey, on weekdays. (The alternative is to drive I-70 across the state, though occasional mudslides from burn scars shut down this major highway completely this summer.)

The good news is that construction delays come to a complete halt over three-day weekends.

“With any CDOT project, all of our contractors are required to cease construction by noon on Friday of a holiday weekend, spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes said. “They can’t go back to work until Tuesday morning.” It is useful to understand – as far as it goes. But the most dangerous part of navigating the roads in this state is not the construction, but the risks of unpredictable and dangerous weather conditions in the mountains. At press time Friday afternoon, for example, the National Weather Service released a hazardous weather forecast for eastern Utah and western Colorado calling for isolated storms, gusty outflow winds, “some showers possible over the San Juans for the next few days”.

The forecast raised the possibility of thunderstorms – and certainly reduced visibility, and possibly flash flooding – for hundreds of miles of driving. There are also other delay possibilities. For example, the Seven Peaks Festival, traditionally held in Buena Vista, has been relocated to the hamlet of Villa Grove by the world’s largest concert promoter, Live Nation, for this weekend. As many as 20,000 spectators are expected to swarm the tiny Villa Grove, located just off US 85, for the biggest event ever in Saguache County, which runs through Sunday.

“Villa Grove and the business owners here are thrilled,” local restaurant owner Jamie Williams told the Colorado Sun.

Drivers en route to another location, probably not so much.

“It’s not the only special event happening in our area this weekend,” Schwantes said. “In Pagosa Springs, a folk festival takes place.” (And in Telluride there is a certain film festival.)

“Pack your patience on a holiday weekend,” Schwantes advised. “You’re bound to come across festivals and special events happening in our smaller communities, who want to take advantage of the high attendance over these longer weekends.”

Experts recommend keeping emergency supplies—water, snacks, jackets, a blanket to wrap up in, and a flashlight—in your vehicle at all times of the year. “A lot of people think that message only applies to winter conditions,” Schwantes said. “We want to make sure everyone understands the importance of being prepared and knowing before you go. Wet monsoon weather can affect the terrain our highways traverse, and a landslide or rockslide can occur in many places.

“Be sure to pack supplies for the kids and pets as well as yourself,” Schwantes added. “Don’t forget coloring books and crayons, or comic books – stuff that doesn’t require power. Stuff that could save your life, or your sanity, if delayed.

The CoTrips.org website has the latest information on road conditions and delays throughout the state. An iPhone app titled CDOT Colorado Road Conditions has a 4.6 rating (out of 5) and positive reviews from over 4,000 users. A recent user called it “Absolutely brilliant”. “Aggregate CDOT information in the palm of your hand,” with “real-time alerts for the highways you actually drive,” this person wrote. “My go-to app for planning routes on the West Rim, where traffic conditions change by the minute.”

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