Lenda Lundquist doesn't sleep in anymore.
Every workday, she's in her car waiting to get onto U.S. Highway 34 at 4:05 a.m. — on the dot. She makes sure she's outside her home 15 minutes before the 4:20 a.m. morning run out of the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland. If she's not, she worries the pilot car she needs to guide her out of the canyon will leave her trapped on her isolated property for hours.
For the second winter in a row, the Colorado Department of Transportation has closed U.S. 34 between Loveland and Estes Park to everyone but canyon residents. Last year, Lundquist's home was one of 20 inside a zone closed even to residents except during designated open hours. This year, that complete closure is much longer — 12 miles compared with about 3½ miles the year before — and includes 350 homes.
The expanded closure has meant hundreds more residents have found their lives reshaped by the $50 million reconstruction project designed to make the highway safer and more resilient to flood damage. CDOT began planning the project after making emergency repairs to the road after flooding in 2013 killed nine people statewide — two people died in the Big Thompson Canyon — swept away canyon businesses and homes, and caused more than $2 billion in damage across the state. The canyon was also devastated by flooding in 1976.