Basalt council still wary of plan for El Jebel intersection
BASALT – The Basalt Town Council declined Tuesday night to endorse Eagle County’s preferred alternative for improving a major intersection at El Jebel but will take up the issue again later this month.
County representatives appeared in Basalt to pitch a proposal to realign Valley Road at its intersection of El Jebel Road to move it farther away from Highway 82 and to improve traffic flow. The intersection is south of the main El Jebel intersection on Highway 82.
The county’s consultant, Stolfus Inc., studied nine options. The preferred alternative includes relocating a section of Valley Road south of the existing Eagle County office building and community center in Basalt. That would require converting an edge of Crown Mountain Park into a road.
The plan also would wrap East Valley Road around the western end of the Orchard Plaza commercial building and realign the road at its intersection of El Jebel Road.
Eagle County Engineer Eva Wilson said the improvements are needed to accommodate anticipated traffic growth in the area over the next 20 years. The county commissioners’ “marching orders” to county staff are to assume that an indoor recreation center will be approved at Crown Mountain Park as well as a nearby parking lot for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority at the site of the former Mermaids restaurant.
“We are on the fast track to accommodate Crown Mountain’s timeline and RFTA’s timeline,” Wilson said.
The Basalt council wouldn’t be rushed. Individual members expressed numerous concerns.
“It’s all about cars. Is there anything for pedestrians and bicycles?” Councilman Pete McBride asked.
Councilman Glenn Rappaport also said he wants to learn more about trail routes and connections in the area.
One critical issue will be getting pedestrians across El Jebel Road toward Crown Mountain Park. Pedestrians coming from the RFTA parking lot and an existing pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 will have to cross the often busy road.
Wilson said the county hasn’t decided if it will build a pedestrian underpass or create an at-grade crossing. Pedestrian flow through the El Jebel Road-Valley Road area is one of the biggest criticisms of existing conditions. It’s confusing because traffic approaching from the east must stop, while traffic coming from the west doesn’t have to stop.
Mayor Leroy Duroux was concerned about the roads being designed to handle speeds of 40 mph adjacent to a park and area with lots of pedestrian use. Wilson assured him the posted speed limits would be slower, such as 20 or 25 mph. Duroux asked why the roads weren’t designed to handle those lower speeds.
“If you design it for 40, people are going to drive 40,” Duroux said.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt expressed concern about the plan to route a section of Valley Road south of the county office building.
“This looks like a highway in the middle of a park,” Whitsitt said.
Rappaport, too, was concerned about the design of the roads. They should be more like town streets and less like highway off-ramps, he said.
Eagle County had its consultant examine nine alternatives for improvements to the intersection. Most of the other options didn’t pass muster with the Colorado Department of Transportation because they didn’t move the intersection far enough away from Highway 82, according to county consultant Matt Brown.
Wilson asked for Basalt’s support of the preferred alternative and a contribution to help with the $200,000 anticipated cost of the design. She walked away without support or money. Council members said they needed to dig into the details more thoroughly before making a final decision. The discussion will resume March 13.
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