Downvalley intersection a tough fix
Basalt and the state transportation department are trying to scrape together funds to install a stoplight at a midvalley intersection that is increasingly the scene of frequent crashes.
But the captain of the Colorado State Patrol for the region suggested yesterday that the effort might be for naught. A traffic light at the intersection of Highway 82 and lower Willits Lane probably wouldn’t eliminate crashes there.
“You don’t solve the problem,” said Capt. Barry Bratt of the state patrol. “You just change it.”
The intersection catches a lot of the traffic heading to and from the El Jebel City Market. Adding to the congestion is the Willits subdivision, an immense residential and commercial project approved by Basalt just upvalley from City Market.
The biggest problem is turning left off Willits Lane onto downvalley-bound Highway 82. An accident occurred there Monday when a tractor-trailer and another vehicle lined up side by side on two lanes, and both attempted to turn left onto the highway.
The truck, which was in the far left lane, nosed out then stopped. The other vehicle also nosed out into the highway. But the driver’s line of sight was obscured by the truck, and he was hit by an upvalley-bound vehicle on Highway 82. The driver of the car that pulled out was cited by the investigating trooper for failure to yield the right of way from a stop sign, Bratt said.
No one was seriously injured in the crash. Local emergency responders said it was lucky.
Bratt said there were 14 accidents at the intersection and within one mile in 2002 and two so far this year. It was fortunate last December that someone wasn’t killed in an accident there, according to emergency response officials. Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said at the time that a stop light would enhance the safety of the intersection.
The Colorado Department of Transportation agrees. The state agency conducted a study of traffic at the intersection after safety concerns were expressed by The Aspen Times. The study concluded a stoplight was warranted based on traffic volumes.
“A signal is definitely warranted,” said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. “This is a priority intersection in our region.”
CDOT is “committed to building this,” she said, but Basalt and Eagle County need to help pay for it. The transportation department takes the position that since the signal is needed to handle traffic from development approved by city and county agencies, they need to help fund it.
Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker acknowledged that “Basalt has some responsibility.” He noted that the town required the Willits developers to improve the intersection and prepare it for a traffic light. The town also collects $1,000 per unit developed in Willits to fund improvements to Willits Lane. Baker said he didn’t know if the Town Council would consider the fund as a source to help pay for a traffic signal.
Shanks said design and engineering for the signal is estimated to cost at least $250,000.
Bratt of the state patrol said he he would be hard-pressed to say the signal is warranted based on the number of accidents at the intersection. If it is added, it will probably decrease the number of broadside accidents, where one vehicle slams into the side of another. But it would likely increase the number of rear-end accidents, where traffic cannot brake in time to avoid hitting cars stopped ahead.
A better way to reduce accidents is to make intersections right-in, right-out only, Bratt said. In this case, traffic could only turn right upvalley onto Highway 82 from Willits Lane, and left turns from the highway onto Willits would be prohibited.
Shanks said it appears the signal will be added “in the near future” although no timetable was set.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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