CDOT to Open US 34 Canyon to all Traffic for Holiday Season

Dec. 15, 2017 -

From 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22 to 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, crews will open US Highway 34 for travel between Loveland and County Road 43 (Drake) for access to Estes Park.

A two-mile stretch of US 34 west of Drake remains closed; motorists on US 34 will use Larimer County Road 43 to travel between Loveland to Estes Park. Through travelers are still encouraged to use US 36 into Estes Park to avoid delays.

Travel Impacts

Note that construction is ongoing, and many areas continue to have only one passable lane. Pilot cars will help motorists navigate the canyon during the holiday opening. These lane restrictions and the anticipated extra traffic on the road for the holidays could mean delays exceeding one hour, especially on Sunday, Dec. 31.

Motorists should plan for extra travel time if they plan to use US 34, and cyclists should plan not to ride in the busy one-lane corridor, for their safety. We encourage those drivers who can, to still use the US 36 and CO 66 detour for travel between Estes Park and Loveland.

This holiday opening is part of CDOT's promise to reduce the inconvenience to canyon residents and nearby communities as much as possible. Drivers should remember to drive slowly and be prepared to stop at the single-lane sections.

Canyon Improvements

During this scheduled opening, motorists will notice significant changes in the canyon since October:

  • Work between mile points 80 and 83 is nearly complete, and we anticipate having two lanes open through this area when the highway opens for holiday travel.
  • Inside this tight area, crews completed 14,000-cubic yards of soil-cement mixing—a process that combines natural material with cement to create a 15-foot section of man-made bedrock beneath the road surface. This mixture will create an extra level of resiliency through the narrows, by ensuring that the river cannot remove the roadway from below.
  • Crews also installed all new drainage in this area. Short lane closures will be needed to complete minor work through May 2018.
  • From mile points 74 to 79, crews are still installing flood protection measures to the river banks and beneath the roadway.
  • At mile point 78, motorists will drive under a new highway bridge that will eventually carry vehicles above the Big Thompson River. Crews spent most of the summer constructing these bridges, which are scheduled to be complete in May 2018.
  • At mile point 77.5, motorists will drive over a new highway alignment, which is placed on bedrock that was uncovered by the blasting work last winter.
  • Mile points 72 to 74, west of Drake—where crews are repairing the highway near the landslide—will remain closed. The roadway will be protected with the installation of large boulders, cemented together, under the road.
  • Work will begin between mile points 70 to 72 in January. Residents should plan for delays when traveling to and from Estes Park.

"The project team has put in a lot of work over the first three months of the closure, and it's exciting to see areas start to reopen. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are committed to reopening the canyon just prior to Memorial Day," said Project Director James Usher.

Following the holiday season, the highway will close again until just before Memorial Day 2018. To travel between Estes Park and Loveland, drivers should use the detour on US 36 and CO 66. The only access on US 34 will be for canyon residents and emergency services through a permit process. The US 34 Big Thompson Canyon will reopen to the public just before Memorial Day.

When the canyon opens to regular traffic in May, drivers will see mostly clear roads, but there will still be some intermittent traffic delays, similar to what drivers experienced in summer 2017. These lane closures will allow crews to complete paving and river work by the end of 2018.

US 34 Big Thompson Canyon's roads and bridges were heavily damaged during the 2013 floods, with many homes damaged and over 100 air-lifted evacuations. The canyon and its residents also suffered from flooding in 1976. As a result of these two events, CDOT has been studying the hydraulic flow of the river in the canyon, and its impact on the road and bridges along its path while looking for safety improvements and resiliency solutions to prevent/protect against future flood events.

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