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Update on Construction in Boulder Canyon (CO)

Posted: 02/12/2020
by Tana Deklevar

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is working on a project in Boulder Canyon to fix damages on Highway 119 that will also take measures to prevent future flooding. After the devastating 2013 storm, the highway was left vulnerable to deterioration and rock slides, as well as the potential for regular occurrences of flooding making it a dangerous route for travelers. The much-needed work includes rock blasting, riverbank armoring, rock scaling, and large boulder removal above the highway. The project will come with road closures and travel delays, while nearby Boulder Creek will be affected as well.  

Because of the blasting and riverbank armoring portions of the highway project, Boulder Creek will experience modifications and, in turn, affect a number of boatable areas in the creek, including Elephant Buttress rapid. Boulder creek is a popular destination for local and tourist boaters alike who enjoy the challenging whitewater available. Since this project involves changes to the riverbed that could possibly make certain sections of whitewater unrunnable or of less quality for paddling, the boating community has voiced concerns and a group of local advocates contacted American Whitewater in regard to seeking a cooperative solution. AW sprang into action and helped negotiate a meeting on the issue that took place on January 9, 2020. 

Overall, the outcome of the meeting was productive and gave many advocates involved a more confident outlook for the upcoming project. The attendees included Ian Stafford (American Whitewater) and Tim Friday (Colorado Whitewater), local boaters Gary Eldridge, Phil Schreiber, Gary Lacy and Spencer Lacy of Recreation, Engineering, and Planning (REP), as well as the CDOT project manager, Dan Marcucci, and project contractor, Zak Dirt. Gary Lacy, civil engineer/recreational planner was officially contracted as the river-design specialist to ensure the river would be re-created in a manner that maintains the quality of paddling for boaters as it does currently. 

Essentially, the goal for this aspect of the project is to place boulders/elements back in place as best they can. Even though the creek will not be exactly the same as it was before, Lacy is committed to partnering with CDOT to make sure the river design is similar to what it was before the project. CDOT is also working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to make sure the fish habitat that existed is restored which will help to make sure this stretch continues to support the recreational fishing that took place before construction. Ian Stafford and Gary Lacy will be the point-of-contacts on this project with the state moving forward.

In addition to the added safety measurements and changes for kayaking, this project was much-needed for easier and more secure road-traveling around the area. Considering there are a multitude of activities along the highway which includes biking, climbing, and fishing, as well as the water sports-it will provide an ease of access for a variety of navigation. The highway connects Boulder to Nederland, which also makes it a popular route for commuting and daily travel.

Overall, the transportation project encompasses a 15-mile stretch of road and will cost the state $31 million to repair the damage that is leftover from the 2013 flood. Though the project's main concern is the safety of the roadway, the project managers have considered all aspects of the area's appeal and have satisfied advocates and citizens with their proactive approach to maintaining the recreation opportunities the canyon has always provided.

A special thanks to CDOT and Gary Lacy for their due-diligence in listening to our concerns and providing a plan of action that appeases everyone involved, and to the group of boaters who came together quickly to make a positive change happen. This project is beneficial in all facets of its design, for travelers as well as nearby recreationists, and American Whitewater will continue to actively participate and provide updates throughout its progress.

The Boulder Canyon Improvements Project will go through Spring 2020 (https://www.codot.gov/projects/co-119-boulder-canyon-improvements). The schedule is showing the re-channeling work will be finished before the Spring and the construction should be complete by May 1, 2020. 


American Whitewater
Ian Stafford
Boulder, CO 80305