US34 Flood Recovery Project

The Challenge

In September 2013, floodwaters wiped away large sections of US 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon between Estes Park and Loveland, devastating the canyon, destroying bridges, and isolating the residents of Estes Park from neighboring communities.

Instead of just restoring the sections of US 34 affected by the flood, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) decided to implement a more thorough engineering solution to minimize roadway damage in the next flood. However, the difficult challenge of making repairs in a tight canyon environment resulted in the decision to close the canyon to through traffic for a significant amount of time.

From a communication standpoint, the US 34 Flood Recovery Project was about more than rebuilding a highway. It was also about restoring a sense of normalcy for the thousands of people who drive the highway daily between Loveland and Estes Park, and a sense of security for those who reside in the Big Thompson Canyon. More than 1,000 year-round canyon residents rely on US 34 to access their homes, while another 6,000 commuters use the highway daily.

More than 1,000 year-round canyon residents rely on US 34 to access their homes, while another 6,000 commuters use the highway daily.

Our Solution

Working as a subconsultant to CDOT, CIG partnered with the communication staff from Kiewit Infrastructure to share information and messages related to the project’s purpose and benefits. Because closing a highway for several months at a time affects nearly everyone at some point, our strategy involved first understanding the numerous affected audiences, then working with the construction team to identify permissible access levels for each stakeholder to clearly convey these to the different audiences. 

The overarching goal was to provide timely information to all stakeholders so they could plan their travels accordingly, allowing construction activities to proceed without public interference.

Our communication tactics included:

  • Variable message signs along regional roadways 
  • Direct mail postcards publicizing open house meetings
  • An information hotline and 24/7 call center that yielded more than 11,000 calls
  • A project email account that yielded more than 4,000 inquiries
  • One-on-one meetings with property owners and business owners in the canyon

Calls

The Results

With Gov. Hickenlooper’s pledge to build the highway back “better than it was before” and the federal government’s backing with emergency repair dollars, the US 34 Flood Recovery Project began in the summer of 2016 and was substantially completed in May 2018. 

Through comprehensive stakeholder coordination and flexible design and construction methods, the project team successfully met each challenge and fulfilled the governor’s promise while maximizing project scope, shaving 18 months off the original schedule and working more than 587,000 man-hours without an accident.

TransComm Award

 American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials

John and Jane Q. Public Award

Transportation Research Board

TransComm Award

American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials

John and Jane Q. Public Award

Transportation Research Board

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