CDOT reverses, goes for 3-lane Highway 133 |

CDOT reverses, goes for 3-lane Highway 133

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – State highway planners have made an about-face from their previous position on expansion of Highway 133 through Carbondale, an official said this week.

Carbondale Public Works Director Larry Ballenger told the Board of Trustees on Tuesday that the engineers now accept the idea of redesigning Highway 133 as a three-lane highway, instead of a four-lane.

Ballenger said the news came in a May 3 meeting between the Project Leadership Team (PLT) and engineers with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

CDOT plans now call for a three-lane highway with a central turning lane, along with an emphasis on cars safely sharing the road with pedestrians and bicyclists, Ballenger reported.

The current expansion plan is only for the approximately one-mile stretch of Highway 133 from Highway 82 to Main Street, Ballenger said.

South of Main, Ballenger said, CDOT plans to overlay the existing highway surface, install a pedestrian-controlled signal at Hendrick Drive, and build a pedestrian trail along the west side of the roadway from Main Street to Hendrick Drive.

CDOT is hoping to start work on the $4.4 million project, $500,000 of which is coming from the town of Carbondale, as early as the summer of 2013, Ballenger said.

Less than a year ago, Ballenger had a more discouraging message for the trustees. He reported in a July 2011 memo, “We are fairly certain the three-lane plan is out.”

He said CDOT planners were convinced a four-lane “urban design” was needed to accommodate future traffic growth, which was predicted in a 2004 study to reach 30,000 vehicles per day by 2030.

Current levels are approximately 7,000 to 7,400 vehicles per day, according to CDOT.

An “urban” roadway would be similar to Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs with curb, gutter, sidewalks and storm drains, Ballenger reported.

“Rural roadways,” he wrote in his memo, “are constructed as farm-to-market facilities, like what we now have,” meaning they are elevated from the surrounding terrain and generally do not have curb, gutter and drainage amenities.

The three-lane design would be closer to the rural concept than the urban, he explained.

By Dec. 17 of last year, Ballenger reported that the three-lane concept was “definitely not dead,” largely thanks to talks among the PLT and the highway planners.

The PLT is a working group made up of Ballenger, Trustee John Hoffmann and planning commission member Charlie Kees, as well as other Carbondale representatives, CDOT personnel and consultants.

A big part of the talks, Ballenger said, involved the belief that the 2004 traffic projections were too high.

And this week he announced that the state engineers had changed their thinking.

Ballenger reported that CDOT is using its existing template for the four-lane design, but superimposing a new, three-lane design on top off the old design, to save time and resources.

But CDOT traffic engineer Kent Harbert remains cautious about the three-lane option, Ballenger informed the trustees.

Harbert is quoted in Ballenger’s memo as saying, “I am not saying that an urban style roadway is required here, but that it should be considered in determining the ultimate template since it will be several decades, if ever, before this section of highway will be reconstructed.”

The current highway design, according to Ballenger’s memo, envisions two, 11-foot lanes with a 12-foot center turning lane, among other features.

By August, CDOT engineers hope to have construction drawings roughly 30 percent complete and ready for an initial town review, Ballenger said.

The plan is to have an open house in September to show the plans to the public. By midwinter the state expects to have the final plans in hand and ready to be put out for bids.

“This has been an ongoing process for decades for Carbondale,” said Mayor Stacey Bernot at Tuesday’s meeting, after Trustee John Foulkrod reminded the board that talks about highway improvements started in the 1980s.

But with the state’s ongoing budgetary shortfalls, Bernot continued, “This could be our shot,” citing Harbert’s predictions that it could be decades before another such chance materializes.

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