After three months of construction, the Mineral Bottom Road, Grand County Route 129, officially reopened Tuesday, March 29. The road, closed since a portion of the switchback section was washed out with heavy rains on August 19, provides access to the Green River and White Rim Trail.
Federal and local officials originally believed that the project would not be completed until late spring, reopening in June or July, however, according to Andrew Coit, the project engineer for U.S. Department of Transportation’s Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD), construction crews were able to use alternative construction methods, which aided in the project being delivered ahead of schedule. Coit also acknowledged that the aggressive repair strategy, cooperative partners, and the experienced and knowledgeable contractor enabled the project to be completed for about $900,000, about half the $1.95 million originally budgeted for the work.
“Construction crews were able to quickly mobilize and commence construction activities using these alternative methods, and Bureau of Land Management, Grand County, and Canyonlands National Park were all active in getting the project started and headed in the right direction,” said Coit. “The support and input throughout the process of those partners were very efficient and effective.”
Russ von Koch, recreation division chief for the Buruea of Land Management in Moab, said that the project owes a lot of its success to the Utah governor’s office and Congressman Jim Matheson, who were “very supportive” of the project.
“This is just another great example of local, state, and federal government branches working together to come up with a solution and cooperatively work toward making it happen,” said von Koch. “It’s just amazing what everyone was able to accomplish.”
Coit said KSUE Construction, Inc., a local contractor that won the bid for the work, worked efficiently and quickly to help save money and time. He said KSUE’s ability to respond, communicate, manage, and perform the work proved to be instrumental in delivering a quality product in a short time and within budget.
Von Koch also agreed that KSUE’s efforts to work with the design team during the process helped expedite the project.
“The key result of this cooperative work environment is the savings to the county because of the early opening,” he said. Last fall, a BLM study showed that the county stood to lose $5 million in revenue from tourism should the road remain closed until June or July.
Coit said he has been employed by CFLHD for two years, but this is his first time working on a project for the agency’s Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) program. ERFO funding is intended to pay for “replace in-kind” repairs. The reconstruction and repairs to Mineral Bottom Road repaired the washed-out section of the road to pre-disaster conditions, with a few exceptions, according to Coit.
KSUE was able to generate most of the fill dirt needed for the construction on site by blasting into the hillside. Some aggregate was brought in for roadway surfacing, clay was used for the core of the detention dam above the switchbacks, and concrete was poured to provide rigid pavement sections in areas where water could cause the most damage, von Koch said. Coit said there was also a focus to integrate several redundancies in detouring drainage water away from the switchbacks to ensure future storm events do not cause such significant damage and, hopefully, save the county money in extra maintenance costs.
“It has been a great experience and I am proud to be part of this delivery team,” said Coit.
The reopening of Mineral Bottom Road is a joyous occasion for two local river companies who use the road to access the Mineral Bottom takeout for rafting, canoe, and kayak trips down the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon.
Bob Jones, owner of Tag-a-Long Expeditions, said his company had to find alternative takeout points last fall to continue serving trip reservations for the remaining part of the 2010 season.
“We continued to run the Green River, but we had to take out at Spring Canyon, which is seldom used and 20 miles further upstream,” said Jones. “About 75 percent of our reservations opted to run the shortened trip, causing some loss in revenue. Others couldn’t justify losing that much of their trip length.”
Tex’s Riverways co-owner, Devin Vaughan, said that the impact from last season’s closing of the road was less than he expected. “September is our busiest month, and we were on course to have our best season ever,” he said. “We ended up having just another pretty good year, which in our minds is still good,”
Vaughan said his staff’s diligence, ability to rearrange schedules, and the cooperation of his customers helped his company successfully weather the road closure.
“We refunded some money, but most customers took the alternative route options we had in place,” said Vaughan.
One such option was to run trips down the Colorado River side of Canyonlands National Park to the Confluence, which shortened the trip by only 5 miles in comparison to the Mineral Bottom route, Vaughan said.
“It was a tolerable solution, although the Colorado route allows for interaction with motor boats, which can often be a distraction in the peaceful wilderness to boaters,” said Vaughan.
Both businesses say that reservations this spring have been slightly down from previous years, mostly due to the Mineral Bottom closure. However, both hope that the road reopening will begin to change those numbers.
“Now that it is open, everyone wants to do the trip,” said Jones. “I didn’t think it would be open so soon, but I am happy to be able to provide that option again.”
Jones said he drove one of his buses down the newly repaired road as a test for the construction company before the official reopening.
“They widened the first four switchback curves, and I was able to actually turn my bus around rather than having to drive down to the drop area,” he said. “I am very complimentary on the new road and the way the work was done. It really worked wonderfully.”
Vaughan said the construction crew stayed in close communication and “really listened and put the interests of [river companies] as a priority.”
“We were able to plan well for this season because of the accurate information they [contractors] were giving us,” Vaughan said. “I can’t wait to get out there and see what they’ve done.”