The Colorado of Department of Transportation’s new regional transportation director for Southwest Colorado was born and raised in Pagosa Springs, so she knows what driving the region’s mountains entails.
A regional transportation director is responsible for overseeing all operations in a given region. CDOT’s Southwest Region 5 encompasses 15 counties, up to Montrose County and east to Alamosa.
“We cover a pretty big area,” said Julie Constan, who replaces the previous Region 5 director, Mike McVaugh, who recently retired.
Constan graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in civil engineering. She has been with CDOT four years as the Southwest’s traffic and safety program engineer.
Constan lives in Durango with her husband of 17 years and 14-year-old son.
Constan is tasked with overseeing more than 300 crew members and operations in Southwest Colorado, but she also serves as the liaison for the region to CDOT headquarters, relaying policies, information and providing local feedback.
Recently, CDOT completed a statewide planning effort after having met with all the regions across the state, which consisted of brainstorming ways to get planned projects off the ground and anticipating future roadwork needs.
Money and resources play a factor in prioritizing projects, Constan said. Southwest Colorado is allocated a portion of CDOT’s total budget, and based on that amount, region officials spread out money for projects across the counties.
In the coming years, La Plata County should see several anticipated projects.
For one, a new interchange on U.S. Highway 550/160 near Grandview in south Durango has received significant funding. The project, expected to finish in fall 2022/spring 2023, will essentially remove the need for Farmington Hill.
Constan said CDOT will also begin a project this summer on Camino del Rio between Ninth Street and 12th Street, constructing a concrete median and upgrading traffic light signals.
CDOT has prioritized another road project that would widen Highway 160 between Bayfield and Elmore’s Corner, east of Durango. Constan said there could be funding soon to begin the design phase.
Constan said CDOT would also like to improve the intersection of Highway 160 and County Road 225 just east of the Florida River, where the highway becomes dangerous and widens and is hard to see how fast cars are traveling, she said.
“We’re starting to look at options,” she said.
This summer, CDOT will begin the construction of a wildlife overpass and an underpass at the intersection of Highway 160 and Colorado Highway 151, near Chimney Rock, to reduce the number of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
A Pagosa Springs native, Constan said she is highly aware of the dangers Wolf Creek Pass has posed to drivers over the years.
In recent years, CDOT started a “Beware the Wolf” campaign to warn truck drivers and others to use extreme caution when descending the west side of the pass, which features a steep grade and a hairpin turn.
Still, several crashes, and fatalities, have been reported since the campaign started. As a result, Constan said CDOT is attempting to go even further to improve its messaging for the safety of travelers.
This spring, a fiber-optic cable will be installed along Wolf Creek Pass, which will allow CDOT to communicate directly to vehicles with the proper technology, warning them to gear down or advising them of any hazardous weather.
New, enhanced technology will also monitor friction on the road, which will allow CDOT to change speed limits, Constan said. So once there’s enough snow on the highway, the agency could decrease speeds.
And, Constan said CDOT will upgrade message boards that will be able to tell when a truck is coming so the agency can send targeted messages to drivers about gearing down.
“A lot of the drivers are first-time (drivers over Wolf Creek Pass) or non-English speaking, thinking they geared down enough,” Constan said. “If we can figure out how to get information to drivers, that should help.”