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Guanella Pass paving isn’t popular everywhere

Brief by Central Staff

Transportation – October 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

To Pave or not To Pave? That is the Guanella Pass Question

Politicians used to get elected by promising to pave roads and re-elected by delivering the asphalt. But times have apparently changed.

First there was 12,126-foot Cottonwood Pass, across the Continental Divide between Buena Vista and Taylor Park. The feds wanted to pave it, and Chaffee County was agreeable. But Gunnison opposed pavement, and eventually prevailed — on its side of the Divide.

That may be why the top of Cottonwood is the only place where there’s a sign that says you’re leaving Chaffee County — Chaffee wants motorists to know that the gravel washboard zone they’re entering is not Chaffee County’s responsibility.

At least Cottonwood is settled, for a while anyway. The paving of Guanella Pass, on the fringe of Central Colorado, is still a matter of contention.

Guanella, 11,500, runs behind Mt. Evans, connecting Georgetown on Interstate 70 to Grant on U.S. 285. It’s partly paved, and the Federal Highway Administration has proposed repaving all of it.

That hasn’t sat well with some segments of Clear Creek and Park counties — from what we read in their newspapers, the consensus is that the road could use some work, but not to the degree the feds have proposed.

One fear is that if the road is improved, it will bring traffic from the I-70 corridor over to U.S. 285, which is already crowded. Consider Denver residents returning to the city from a day of skiing. They would understandably want to avoid frequent I-70 congestion in the Floyd Hill area. So they could cross Guanella (once the home of the now-closed Geneva Basin ski area) to Grant, and take U.S. 285 home.

Guanella isn’t the only pass that can cause complications for U.S. 285. Several years ago, on a Sunday when I-70 was gridlocked with aspen viewers, a Summit County radio station suggested that motorists avoid the crowd by taking 11,541-foot Hoosier Pass (Colo. 9) to Fairplay, and then cruising back to Denver on U.S. 285.

As you might have guessed, there wasn’t much cruising on 285 that afternoon and evening; it was bumper to bumper into the city.