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US 50 between Manzanola, Fowler to reopen Saturday

Christian Burney
LA Junta Tribune
A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Tuesday morning outside Fowler to celebrate the near completion of the US 50 resurfacing project. The stretch of highway between Fowler and Manzanola is scheduled to reopen Saturday after seven months of closure for roadwork. Among those in attendance (in no particular order) include Colorado Department of Transportation Michelle Peulen, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew, Transportation Commission Chair Karen Stuart, Sen. Larry Crowder, Rep. Bri Buentello and Regional Transportation Director Richard Zamora. [CHRISTIAN BURNEY]

Transportation officials, state congresspersons and Otero County Commissioner Jim Baldwin gathered about a mile east of Fowler Tuesday to celebrate the near completion of the $10.8 million US 50 resurfacing project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The project has required the stretch of highway between Fowler and Manzanola (mile points 351.95 to MP 359.03) to remain closed since mid-March.

Michelle Peulen, the transportation department's communications manager for the Southeast region of the state, said the highway is scheduled to reopen Saturday. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held a little before the project's official completion, Peulen said, because once the project is 100% completed, the transportation department does not want to inconvenience traffic a moment longer than they need to.

"This project started back in March and, as you all know, required a full closure of US 50 between Fowler and Manzanola," Peulen said. "We can't thank the community in this area enough. We realize that this caused an inconvenience for all of you, and we hope the final product will be worth the wait. We didn't want to delay the road opening by having a celebration, so we're having a celebration a little bit early. The actual opening of the road will be this Saturday. So hold tight to see that happen, but we wanted to get this out of the way so we could get this road open."

When the project was announced, it wasn't clear how long it would take to complete, or what exactly all the work to be done would consist of. The Tribune-Democrat reported in January that the project was estimated to last about 10 months, but, assuming final construction goes as planned and the eight-mile stretch of highway is ready to reopen by Saturday, the road closure will have lasted for just seven months, nearly to the day.

"What did this project include? CDOT and contractor Castle Rock Construction resurfaced this 8-mile stretch," said Peulen. "We replaced asphalt with a concrete surface. The project also significantly improved the safety of the roadway by widening and lengthening the existing passing lane, placing safety rumble strips at the center line and shoulders, as well as repairing bridges within the project limits."

Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shoshana Lew attended the ribbon cutting and thanked the surrounding communities for their patience with the highway closure this year. Lew said the transportation department recognizes that US 50 is "an artery for so much of rural Colorado," and said it's a priority for the department to improve it bit-by-bit in order to bring its quality up to par with how often it's relied on.

"We're just really pleased to see this get to a point where we can get it open before winter," Lew said. "Really, it's been down to the wire for us in getting a lot of these projects into a place where the traveling public can use them before we're in full-on snow season."

Others who spoke before the ribbon-cutting included Transportation Commission Chair Karen Stuart, Sen. Larry Crowder, Rep. Brianna Buentello and Regional Transportation Director Richard Zamora.

Crowder, who mentioned that the ribbon-cutting Tuesday was likely his last public event before his final term in Senate District 35 concludes, shared why this highway project was important to him personally.

"The rumble strips that you see on the side are a safety issue," said Crowder. "I'm from Manzanola, just the next town down, and unfortunately, a number of years ago, my dad was killed on this highway. We don't know what happened, but it made me think, if the rumble strips were placed at that time, it may have had a different outcome.

"I think for safety purposes it's really unique. I think the people of this region really do appreciate CDOT, the contractors and the taxpayers for coming up with the funding for this. There's a number of projects that need done throughout the state, and CDOT does a great job in Southern Colorado. We've had numerous amounts of highways resurfaced; Manzanola, Lamar, the towns are getting done."

Rep. Buentello said she is glad that ambulances and emergency response units will be able to travel more quickly with US 50 reopen.

"Like so many others, I too was concerned when I heard about, well, the inconvenience, obviously, for one," said Buentello. "From my home in Pueblo to La Junta it's a solid hour and a half right now. But as you guys can see from the concrete under you, it looks like it was worth it. We've got rumble safety strips, I'm certainly looking forward to less potholes. ... "I think that's something good about us Southern Coloradans. We hang tough and we hang tight. I think our patience was certainly worth the wait. I'm certainly going to be happy when ambulances can get through here again and get through here fast. I'm just really excited for this project. Thank you all to everyone who contributed to this project."

Transportation Commission Chair Karen Stuart said the commission members, of which there are 11 from across the state, are excited for the completion of the US 50 project.

"We invest a lot of money in the state of Colorado in transportation; obviously never enough money to invest in all the needs everyone has. This is a great use of taxpayer dollars to make this happen. ... Thank you for your patience and thank you for your interest in this project and we're glad to see it coming to fruition."

Marco Scarafiotti (left) and Clayton Freshour of Boost Contracting served as traffic directors for the Colorado Department of Transportation during the resurfacing project for US 50 between Fowler and Manzanola.

"It's the nicest stretch of road around here," said Freshour of the nearly completed highway.
Sen. Larry Crowder thanked the Colorado Department of Transportation, Castle Rock Construction and taxpayers for helping the US 50 resurfacing project to come to fruition. Crowder said the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday could be his last public event as Senator serving Senate District 35.
Otero County Commissioner Jim Baldwin, representing Ward 3 where the US 50 resurfacing project has taken place, inspects the freshly cut ribbon that marked the near completion of the highway project.
The resurfacing project that necessitated the closure of US 50 between Fowler and Manzanola is scheduled to reopen Saturday. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday in advance of completion to avoid impeding traffic once the road is officially ready for public traffic.