Saturday, November 30, 2013

Post-Flood Canyon Highways ... and our Brevet Season

On Thanksgiving, my wife Pat and I drove up Hwy. 7 (St. Vrain Canyon) and down US-34 (Big Thompson Canyon) on our way to/from Rocky Mountain National Park.  We wanted to see what these newly-reopened highways were like.

With these excursions, we have now visited all of the reopened highways - including Golden Gate Canyon / Hwy. 46 and Boulder Canyon / Hwy. 119 - except for Coal Creek Canyon / Hwy. 72.  Of course non-highways such as Lefthand Canyon, James Canyon, and Buckhorn Rd. (Stove Prairie) are still closed, so we'll have to see what happens with these.

Here is the helpful Boulder County Cycling Closure map.  As you can see, even Coal Creek Canyon is closed and much of the Peak-to-Peak Highway:
The repair and reopening (ahead-of-schedule) of US-36 from Lyons to Estes Park was rightly heralded as an heroic effort by CDOT, the National Guard, and contractors.  Bad as though the damage to US-36 was, it looked like Hwy. 7 actually has more and longer repaired segments, and US-34 even more than that.  So, again an impressive effort and accomplishment.

Bikes are still prohibited in both canyons (as well as Boulder Canyon and on US-36), probably because there is a lot of road work and off-road work going on: e.g., rebuilding feeder roads to homes and other structures.  I haven't found out the plans for allowing cyclists later on.

Jersey barriers in St. Vrain Canyon
If the roads open to cyclists, on most segments which have been reconstructed, the road is narrower than before, with little or no shoulder. Many of these segments have jersey barriers rather than dirt shoulders, so cyclists really would have no place to go to evade problems or just get off the road. (The jersey barriers are there because they have only built up the road bed so wide, beyond which are sheer dropoffs, or cliff walls.)

Another curve in St. Vrain Canyon

The original shoulder width - St. Vrain Canyon
Above the canyons had less damage - Trail Ridge Road in good shape

In contrast to Hwy. 7, US-34 carries heavy traffic - comparable to US-36 - but has been much more safe / comfortable to ride than US-36 because of its ample shoulders. The new layout with narrower segments and jersey barriers changes that.

Big Thompson exhibits a swath of descruction - Pat Heller photo
This is in no way a criticism of CDOT or the contractors, who've made the compromises they needed to and provided a safe, well-engineered roadway for motorists on an ambitious schedule. Also, while the stretches of new asphalt are apparent, the underlying efforts are less obvious. In many places, contractors had to recreate the entire roadbed, to a depth of ten or twenty feet or more, judging from the scoured-away areas you can see on the opposite bank.

Big Thompson: the riverbed now a field of boulders and silt; houses perilously cling, or were swept away without a trace - Pat Heller photo
Brevets Impact
  • Drake Doubleback April 200k - Kersey Kick has been substituted.  Even assuming cyclists are allowed on US-34 by April, it would probably not be a very comfortable riding prospect.
  • Stove Prairie April 200k - Larimer County says the currently closed Buckhorn Road probably won't reopen until 2014.  When in 2014 is not clear.  So we may have to reroute.
  • 400k's, 600k's, and June 1000k - These three weekends of events in May and June are the most problematic, because it may not be feasible to use the roads they depend on: Lefthand Canyon (probably will open and be ok to ride), James Canyon (may not be), St. Vrain Canyon, Devil's Gulch (still closed at this point), and Big Thompson Canyon.  So new routes will likely be needed.
  • Golden Gate Gadabout July 200k - May require a change, or we use the Vail Pass Volley instead!
  • Peak-to-Peak 300k - Because of Big Thompson and Devil's Gulch, this route may need changing.
  • James Canyon Jaunt October 200k - We'll just have to see, but there are plenty of alternatives.
On the bright side, this may introduce some variety and novelty in our brevet routes.  All while we keep our mountain neighbors in our thoughts.


A footnote about Flagstaff Road (not used on rando routes, but just FYI) - Flagstaff Road reopened a couple weeks ago to the general public.  The only actual road damage (at least as far up as the amphitheatre) is near the base, just up from Gregory Canyon: most of the upbound lane has been washed away for 100 ft. or so, so it's one lane travel there, governed by a traffic light.  Elsewhere, considerable shoulder work has been done to remove excess soil in some places and replace dirt that washed away in others.

Update 30-Dec-2013
Now that the canyon highways have been reopened to cyclists, certain sections now bear this warning, such as here, at the top of St. Vrain Canyon, graced by Meeker Peak in the background. 
This particular section - between Hwy. 72 and Estes Park - seems odd, because it has little discernible damage, except for some dirt shoulder erosion near Longs Peak, and between this sign and Meeker Park, there's a full paved shoulder.
In other cases, only sections of canyons (e.g., Big Thompson) are signed with this warning.
 A reminder that some of these repairs are temporary, and work is continuing. 

For example, a short stretch of Hwy. 119 (Boulder Canyon) has been dug up for some road base repair.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice write-up, John. Not much remains north of Boulder that doesn't have to be redone or abandoned for now. There is still plenty of riding south of Golden, so perhaps you can look there.