Premium content

Downtown U.S. 160 reconstruction delayed


On April 16, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced that it has denied the only bid it received for the planned reconstruction of U.S. 160 through downtown Pagosa Springs. 

The announcement was made at a meeting hosted by CDOT and the Pagosa Springs Main Street Advisory Board at the Hidden Track Speakeasy.

CDOT Regional Communications Manager Lisa Schwantes indicated that CDOT only received one bid for the project, which was 35 percent, or roughly $6.6 million, over budget.

“I have to say, after careful consideration of that bid, we rejected it,” she said. “So, what this means is that we are going to repackage this project.” 

She mentioned that CDOT’s engineers and designers will be reviewing the project and that “some things might change.”

Schwantes explained that the project will be put back out for bids this fall.

“I think it’s wonderful that you all are pulling together and working with us and trying to come up with solutions … we appreciate that and we want to work with you,” she added.

She also noted that CDOT now anticipates a start date of spring 2025 for the reconstruction project.

Schwantes went on to mention that CDOT will continue to use the same company, Rock Sol, for the project management team as long as it continues to be available with the new timeline of the project. This is the same project management team that was on the McCabe Creek culvert project.

Schwantes also spoke on behalf of Julie Constan, regional transportation director for Region 5, who represented CDOT at the town’s previous meeting.

Schwantes explained that Constan was in Denver and was unable to attend the meeting, but conveyed that “Julie has committed to listen to you and … to continue to work with you until we advertise again.”

Schwantes also went on to explain that three business owners in Pagosa Springs have volunteered to be a part of a working group to work with CDOT to provide feedback and represent the town’s business community’s needs throughout this project.

“Those were the big things that we wanted to let you know,” Schwantes stated.

The three business owners who volunteered for that role are JR Ford, Jeremy Buckingham and Evelyn Tennyson.

“We’re hoping that this gives us an opportunity to look a little more closely at this project, an opportunity to continue our conversations with the business community here, and we certainly understand that this community has been under construction for the last few years and we appreciate your patience and we understand that … you are going through some construction fatigue. So, hopefully, this gives you a little breather for some uninterrupted business to take place in your downtown community without any construction interruptions,” Schwantes added.

In a later interview with Ford, he mentioned this is a good opportunity for the town to have more input on the project but that it will also take more work and communication between the town and CDOT.

“I think it’s created a lot of work ... I think that there will be a lot of things that we can suggest to the state now that they wouldn’t have had time to include in their plan,” he said.

He noted that he already has about 30 items in the plan that he’d like to address.

“It’ll be fun to meet with the state and see how open they are to this … they’re probably breathing a little bit easier right now, too,” Ford added.

He also mentioned that he would like to see some local contractors get together to potentially bid on the project.

Ford explained that some of his ideas moving forward are to sectionalize the project into “bite-size” jobs so that only small sections of the town may be shut down at a time, rather than the entire downtown sector being affected at the same time.

In a later interview with Schwantes, she mentioned that “we [CDOT] truly do believe that it is an opportunity to go back and take a really hard look at the project design and the specifications that are in the bid, so that we can fine-tune it.’’

During the meeting, Rick Holter, chair of the Main Street board, spoke to the news of the bid being rejected, saying, “We are, I think like most of you, pretty excited about this news. We’re excited about this news because it is a big opportunity. It’s a big opportunity to answer a bunch of the unanswered questions that we’ve had through this process.”

In a later interview with Holter, he explained that after a few “emotional” meetings about the project, this meeting “was kind of like a nice release.”

He also mentioned that he would like to see businesses working together and thinking creatively on how to help each other throughout this project.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunities here to think creatively,” Holter added.

During the meeting, Mayor Shari Pierce encouraged people to continue to stay involved with the project and to voice their concerns to the three business owners in the working group that will be meeting directly with the state.

“Let’s don’t lose this momentum, please,” she said. “Please, please, stay involved because that year is going to go fast.”

Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDC) Executive Director Emily Lashbrooke also spoke during the meeting, emphasizing the opportunities ahead.

“What an opportunity we have in front of us … we have an opportunity to provide feedback directly to CDOT with our committee,” she said.

Lashbrooke also encouraged people to continue to meet with and communicate their concerns with the working group. 

She noted that those three individuals will have an input on the outcome of this reconstruction project and that they can not guarantee what is going to change in the plan, “but we have the opportunity to try.” 

“We have the opportunity to be at the table and speak to the powers that be,” she said.

Lashbrooke also spoke about how this is uncommon for CDOT to extend the timeline on the project.

“CDOT doesn’t do this,” she said, explaining that although the bid came in over budget, CDOT could’ve found a way to go through with it.

“Do you think CDOT could’ve gone and found that $6.6 million? Yes, they could have, but they didn’t. They heard you. They respected what you had to say. They want to change the path of trajectory. They want to include us in the solution. It is our job to show up,” Lashbrooke said.

In the interview with Schwantes, she indicated, “We [CDOT] could’ve definitely said, ‘Hey, we do need to get this project through now’ … we could’ve made our case.”

However, she explained, CDOT felt it was best to “take a step back” and continue to work with the Pagosa Springs community to figure out the best way forward.

She also explained that CDOT will be reevaluating the project package and setting up meetings with the town’s working group to “hear what the concerns are and listen to them so that we can maybe incorporate a bit more of those concerns into the specifications.”

She added, “We’re looking forward to continuing to work together for a better project being put out to bid in the fall.”

During the meeting, Lashbrooke reiterated how this is “unheard of” from CDOT and that, “we are, again, in southwest Colorado, setting the example for the state.”

Lashbrooke also went on to explain that the PSCDC and Region 9 are looking into the possibility of having a COVID fund account reactivated which would allow businesses to apply for a loan up to $10,000 at a zero percent interest rate.

“The best thing that could’ve happened to us is that they rejected the bid, and they did … you all should be celebrating this day,” Lashbrooke said.

During the meeting an audience member voiced concern about the new timeline, noting that every year and every month things get more expensive and that “this project is not going to get any cheaper, whatsoever, the further that we push it off.”

The audience member questioned if that is something that the town and CDOT are taking into consideration.

“I want this project to go forward, the right way, because I think it will be a really good thing for the community,” they added.

Schwantes replied to the concern, saying, “We’re really anxious and looking forward to the project being put back out to bid with multiple bids put in” this fall. 

She noted that during the fall season construction companies are often looking to bid jobs for the upcoming spring to ensure they have work.

“So, hopefully, it’ll be more competitive,” she added.

One of the last people to speak at the meeting was Jeremy Martin, a member of the Main Street Advisory Board.

Martin brought up the possibility of the town being able to have its Fourth of July parade go through downtown this summer since there won’t be any construction going on. 

He noted that it usually takes up to six months for the town to get a permit to have the parade go along U.S. 160, but asked if CDOT would be able to expedite that process in any way.

“I promise that will be the first thing I ask tomorrow morning when I get to the office,” Schwantes replied.

Pierce indicated that the town will be working on updating its July 4 parade plans.