Hwy. 82 will someday be like Colfax Ave.
State engineers are hoping to use a new technology to help pedestrians safely cross Highway 82 without planting stoplights at every corner.
But despite those intentions, they predict the 40-mile road between Glenwood Springs and Aspen will eventually evolve into a slower-speed urban avenue like Denver’s Colfax Avenue rather than a high-speed thoroughfare.
Colorado Department of Transportation traffic engineer Jim Nall said the state agency is exploring the use of a “real-time sign” that’s activated when pedestrians cross a special zone. Signs would warn approaching drivers to watch for pedestrians, then would be deactivated when pedestrians have safely crossed.
The real-time sign is seen as a potential solution for areas where pedestrians need help, but a traffic signal isn’t warranted, according to Ralph Trapani, construction engineer for the Highway 82 corridor. He identified Bishop Drive and Highway 82, where the Holland Hills bus stop is located, as a prime candidate for such a mechanism.
A pedestrian was struck by a car and severely injured there last winter.
Nall said a permanent sign warning motorists to watch for pedestrians isn’t effective.
“If we had that sign on 24 hours a day, they’d forget about it,” he said.
But CDOT has performed research that shows motorists would take note of a warning from a “real-time” sign, Nall said. The CDOT engineers couldn’t estimate when the necessary technology might be ready to follow through on the concept.
“Infrared seems to have the most promise right now,” said Trapani, referring to the mechanism to trigger the warning signs.
Even if the technology proves successful, it’s just a matter of time before stoplights proliferate along the highway, said Nall.
In a discussion with Basalt staff members Thursday, Nall said CDOT prefers to keep traffic signals spaced at least one-half mile apart on Highway 82. However, lights closer than that will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Basalt Public Works Director Gerry Pace said he feels lights will soon be needed at the lower Willits intersection with Highway 82 and at the entry road to the Midvalley Clinic. Both of those intersections are within one-half mile of other signals.
“That valley commuter is going to hate us at that point,” said Pace.
Basalt officials are also concerned that the posted 55 mph speed limit is too high at some points through the town. Nall agreed to work with the town to look at appropriate speeds, but he made no promises that they’d be lowered.
“It doesn’t matter what we post the speed at on 82,” said Nall. Heavier enforcement is needed for compliance.
But speed might not be an issue all that long, at the rate the valley is developing. Nall said development from Glenwood Springs to Aspen will eventually force slower speeds and more stoplights the length of the corridor.
“The problem is not going to be 65 miles per hour before I retire,” he chuckled.
He said commuters have to realize that CDOT has a responsibility to make sure commuters coming from side roads can get on the highway. They cannot be concerned about only the “main line.”
But that’s apparently the concern of many commuters. Trapani said “you can’t imagine the calls I get” from people pushing for higher speeds along Highway 82 or complaining about traffic lights.
The key to making the commute bearable is getting the four-lane completed and creating a free flow of traffic, according to Trapani. Then commuters might lose a little time at signals, but their trips will be improved overall.
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