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Eagle County feels ambushed in midvalley

EL JEBEL – Eagle County officials feel like some constituents in the Roaring Fork Valley are making them out to be “unfeeling ogres” for trying to solve traffic problems at a major intersection, the chairman of the county commissioners said Thursday.

Commissioner Peter Runyon said criticism of the county’s traffic analysis at the intersection of Valley Road and El Jebel Road is premature and unproductive.

“We’re just trying to be the grown-ups in the room,” he said.

The intersection in question is already on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s list for “problem intersections,” according to Runyon. Eagle County hired a consultant to study possible solutions before more development gets added to the area.

The intersection is just south of the main intersection of Highway 82 and El Jebel Road. The frontage road, Valley Road, is much closer to the highway than the state Transportation Department prefers, according to county officials. Pedestrians also are imperiled in the area because traffic heading west or downvalley on Valley Road must stop at a crossing, but traffic heading east does not.

The intersection was redesigned when Eagle County built an office building and community center in El Jebel in the early 2000s. The design is again under scrutiny because the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District wants to build an indoor recreation center in the neighborhood and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority intends to develop a park-and-ride for a nearby bus stop.

The recreation center will go under review at 5 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Eagle County Building in El Jebel. For that meeting, Eagle County will outline various options its consultant came up with to improve traffic flow. One option includes rerouting Valley Road through the parking lot RFTA wants to develop and realign it south of the county building into open space at Crown Mountain Park.

The majority of the Basalt Town Council criticized the option and others when they were outlined last week. Mayor Leroy Duroux said none of the options is acceptable to him. He said the county building was constructed too close to the El Jebel Road intersection with Valley Road, eliminating options to move the road in a logical manner.

“Eagle County cannot blame anybody but themselves,” Duroux said at a council meeting Jan. 24.

That comment in particular got under Runyon’s skin. No current commissioner was involved in the decision to build the county building at Crown Mountain Park, Runyon said.

“To try to say, ‘Hey it’s all your fault,’ is annoying and counterproductive,” he said

All parties might as well “move on” and forget about blame, Runyon said, because the county building will not be relocated.

The commission chairman also said that Crown Mountain Park officials want to “hide their heads in the sand” and ignore traffic issues. The traffic analysis shows that the intersection cannot absorb the added traffic a recreation center would generate, Runyon said.

Eagle County officials were watching out for the quality of life in the midvalley by requesting the traffic analysis and seeking possible solutions, Runyon said. Midvalley constituents will be “upset” if Eagle County approves a recreation center without requiring significant improvements to the roads, he said.

Runyon said the consultant didn’t put any “hard numbers” on the options for improving the intersection. It isn’t known what entities would help pay or in what amounts.

Recreation center proponents aren’t feeling like they received any favors from the county. A blast email to recreation center supporters this week urged them to attend Tuesday’s meeting and criticized the county for its position.

The county consultant’s recommendation to move Valley Road “would prohibit construction of a Rec Center for many years, due to the expense,” wrote Mark Munger, chair of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors.

The email urged three actions:

• “Tell Commissioners not to hold the Rec Center hostage while they determine how to resolve the concerns they have with the intersection.”

• “Demand that Eagle County acknowledge their role in creating the traffic problem.”

• “Ask Commissioners to approve Crown Mountain’s (land-use application) and the proposed Rec Center location upon completion of an interim fix we’ve proposed for the intersection with Valley Road.”

The interim fix favored by the recreation district will be unveiled at Tuesday’s meeting.

Eagle County spokeswoman Kris Friel said a traffic analysis is a standard part of development review, as is a requirement that improvements be made to accommodate new traffic.

“It’s not holding anybody hostage,” Friel said.

She stressed that no final report has been prepared by the consultant and no decision has been made by the county commissioners. It will be at the commissioners’ discretion to accept a recommendation or not.

Runyon said he and his fellow commissioners want to do what is best for the residents of the midvalley but feel it’s been thankless so far.

“It is such a work in progress, and to be pilloried for what we feel is doing our job is very amazing,” he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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