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No easy way around Wolf Creek bottleneck

Brief by Central Staff

Transportation – September 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Some friends in Saguache report that traffic through town, and thus their business, has been off considerably this summer.

Their theory is that much of the summer traffic on U.S. 285 that passes through Saguache starts in Denver and is bound for Durango. The usual route is over Wolf Creek Pass, but the pass isn’t always passable. It’s closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, and even when it is open, there can be delays of up to 45 minutes.

That’s because the Colorado Department of Transportation is boring a 950-foot-long tunnel on the east side; the project is supposed to be finished next spring.

There is a sign in Villa Grove warning of the Wolf Creek Pass delays and suggesting that travelers take alternate routes. The “standard route” from Denver to Durango — U.S. 285 to Colo. 112 (the junction is 23 miles south of Saguache) to Del Norte, then over Wolf Creek — is 341 miles.

Assuming the travelers didn’t know about the construction, and first considered an “alternate route” when passing through Villa Grove, then the shortest course would be to bypass Saguache by taking Colo. 17 to Alamosa, and then to go over Cumbres Pass to rejoin U.S. 160 at Pagosa Springs. That’s 389 miles.

One alternative would be shorter in distance, if not time: U.S. 285 to Poncha Springs, then west to Montrose, and south through Ouray and Silverton to reach Durango. That’s only 371 miles, but it also means using Red Mountain Pass, which is not a route for anyone in a hurry.

As for staying on the interstate as much as possible, there’s Denver to Walsenburg on I-25, then west on U.S. 160 to Alamosa, then Cumbres Pass and finally Durango. It’s 409 miles, the longest of the reasonably direct routes.

What we’d really like is some traffic counts so we could compare this year’s volume on U.S. 285 to last year’s. CDOT can provide accurate daily counts of traffic through the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70, but our roads apparently don’t rate that kind of attention — we were told there weren’t any such numbers.