On Tuesday, 8 members of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) team appeared before the Board of County Commissioners to give their annual update and discuss transportation issues and future projects.
Outgoing transportation commissioner for NW Colorado, Kathy Connell, told the commissioners this was her second to last meeting as commissioner. “It’s been a great ride,” she said.
Executive Director, Shoshana Lew, told the commissioners that CDOT had kicked off an effort to consolidate their planning a month and a half ago. She told the commissioners they were visiting every county “to make sure we are hearing about what we need, have comprehensive discussions to see what each community looks like, and where we need to go.” Lew said the goal was to “inspire our creativity and get us where we need to go.” She told them, “We hope that’s what you take away from these discussions.”
Grand County is part of CDOT Region 3, which includes 15 counties and over 50 municipalities located mainly in northwestern Colorado. Region 3 has responsibility for 706 bridges, 13 mountain passes, 7 tunnels, 13 rest areas and 5,161 lane miles of state highways. It is, geographically, the largest region in the state.
Funding of road projects comes from a variety of federal and state sources, and CDOT’s annual budget approaches $2 billion. Each year, Region 3 is challenged with making limited budget funds stretch the farthest across a very diverse landscape.
Regional planning manager, Mark Rogers, led the commissioners through an overview of the team’s strategy. He said their goals are to focus on improved safety, modal options and using a data driven needs assessment as a means of identifying and prioritizing construction projects. The next meeting of Region 3 will take place in Steamboat on July 11th. He said they would be flushing out planning during that meeting. Two more meetings will take place before the end of the year to develop a plan that will be integrated over the next ten years.
CDOT had utilized a demographer to project Grand County’s population growth in the next 25 years. The demographer estimated the population would grow 47% from 2020 to 2045, and 17% of the population would be over the age of 65 by 2045. They had also determined that 5.3% of the population has a disability, 13.1% live below the poverty line and 2.7% of households do not have a vehicle available to them. They found that individuals aged 25-34 years of age are the fastest growing segment of the population.
Taking into consideration the factors of the aging segment of the population, coupled with high poverty and disability rates creates a growing need for access to transit and other multimodal options.
Rogers asked the commissioners what concerns they had with the state of the current roads. Items such as safety, in stretches of Byers Canyon and Red Dirt Hill, and other areas where shoulders are narrow, traffic bottlenecks and the lack of alternative routes were all cited.
Commissioner Kris Manguso said the intersection of CR 5 and US 40 will have added traffic, with the new transit operations center in the plans, and she felt it was important for CDOT to pursue a study. She also noted that the intersection of US 34 and 40, as well as the entire US 34 corridor needed attention. “Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most visited park in the country. I don’t have the answer, but with Sun Communities coming online, the 34/40 intersection is just crazy.”
“We are not looking for answers, we are looking for the needs,” Rogers clarified.
Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor, Bob McVay, said the town had been trying for several years to get a crosswalk added at the intersection of Aspen Street and US 40. Many of the local students cross there to catch the school bus. “If we lose one kid in this town, it is well worth the cost of a crosswalk,” said Mayor McVay. “I don’t care if we have to slow traffic, I don’t want any of our kids hurt.” He also pointed out the need for better signage at the existing crosswalk by the town’s gas station.
Chairman Richard Cimino discussed the congestion on US 40 between Winter Park and Tabernash. “The county has been exploring ways to relieve that back up. We would welcome some traffic expertise. We want to know whether it would it bleed off traffic. We are concerned about building a solution that’s not a solution.”
“There are opportunities that we can partner on with that,” said Rogers.
County Attorney Chris Leahy asked Rogers why there weren’t any guardrails along US 40 in front of Snow Mountain Ranch. Rogers explained that only 7% of their budget was earmarked for safety. They conduct safety research checks to assess deficiencies and look at the highest critical need. “We try to focus in as best we can, but we only have so many dollars to go around.”
Tabernash resident, Becky Arnold, suggested they add flashing lights at the bottom of Red Dirt Hill to warn eastbound traffic of the upcoming lane merge at the top of the hill.
Andi Staley, Traffic Operations engineer, confirmed they were in the process of conducting a safety audit to find out if there are things that can be done to improve safety.
Chairman Cimino asked, and the board agreed, that since it is at no cost to the county, they would like a speed study to be conducted on Red Dirt Hill as well. Staley explained the county would have to sign a letter of understanding of the risk involved with the request. Once the study is complete, Staley cautioned, the speed limit that they arrive at becomes the enforceable speed.
Assistant County Manager, Ed Moyer, asked about plans for resurfacing the roads.”This last fall, winter and spring, I have been fielding calls regarding the state of the road conditions of highway 40 itself. What is the plan for resurfacing from Hot Sulphur Springs to Winter Park? Overall, it is in disrepair.” Moyer recommended the team travel back to Denver via US 40 to see the conditions for themselves.
Rogers replied, “I agree, I have seen the road. The next planned surface treatment is on US 34. We have so many lane miles and can only do so much.”
In 2019, there are two CDOT projects underway in Grand County. The $6.5 million bridge replacement on US 34, and Avalanche Control System remote avalanche triggering improvements at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel and US 40, at about $540,000. The project to widen the stretch between Winter Park and Fraser to four lanes has been shelved. The next planned projects are yet to be determined.
As Region 3 looks to prepare budgets and prioritize projects for the next ten years, they are seeking input from the community and elected officials. To complete a survey and submit comments, visit YourTransportationPlan.com.