Makeover of Highway 133 through Carbondale takes another step | AspenTimes.com

Makeover of Highway 133 through Carbondale takes another step

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Officials and citizens here have their work cut out for them over the coming couple of years, as the town gets ready for a makeover of Highway 133 from the bridge over the Roaring Fork River to the Main Street intersection.

And while there will be multiple issues hashed out in the planning process, there will be two key questions to be answered fairly quickly:

• Will the highway be expanded to three lanes, or four?

• And will the prevailing traffic control device be traffic signals or roundabouts?

The town trustees recently approved an $80,000 contract with Atkins North America Inc., an international engineering and design consulting firm that has been working with Carbondale on transportation issues for nearly a decade.

Half of the contract amount, or $40,000, will be paid by the Colorado Department of Transportation, according to Public Works Director Larry Ballenger.

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Approval of the contract by the trustees has launched the second of a two-pronged approach to redesigning and upgrading the highway.

The contract marks the beginning of a process intended to map the various existing access points, for businesses, cross streets and other uses, as well as analyzing traffic turning patterns and blockage points.

The first prong was formation of the Project Leadership Team (PLT), a three-member working group made up of Ballenger, Trustee John Hoffmann and planning commission member Charlie Kees, who will be working with CDOT on redesign of the road.

Hoffmann said an initial “kickoff meeting” of the PLT was held in November with several CDOT representatives, someone from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the three PLT members.

“They [the CDOT representatives] let us know in no uncertain terms that they wanted to see a four-lane highway through town,” Hoffmann said of that meeting.

The state highway engineers cited estimates that 30,000 vehicles per day will be traveling Highway 133 by the year 2030, Hoffmann said.

But, said Ballenger, “those projections came when life was good and people were spending money,” before the ongoing national recession hit in 2008.

He said the projections probably need to be reviewed and modified to fit the new economic realities of the valley.

Regarding the four-lane idea, Hoffmann said he and Kees are worried that a four-lane will split the town in two even more intensively than the existing highway already does.

Hoffmann said he prefers a three-lane option, with the center lane for turning vehicles, as a more pedestrian-friendly design, whether vehicular traffic is controlled by signals or roundabouts.

Ballenger acknowledged that CDOT so far has been locked into the idea of a four-lane with a raised median and several roundabouts at different points along the stretch between Highway 82 and Main Street.

Roundabouts, Ballenger noted, while smoothing out the flow of vehicular traffic, pose potential problems for pedestrians.

“If we go with all of these roundabouts, and there’s no interruption of traffic, it’s going to be difficult for pedestrians to get across,” he said.

The three-lane idea “definitely is not dead,” Ballenger said, adding that he expects it to come up during public input sessions some time next year.

In the meantime, Atkins will be working on an access control plan, conducting vehicle counts and compiling data about traffic flows as the highway exists today.

Once that plan is completed, probably by next spring, Ballenger said, the information will be turned over to the PLT and used to begin the process of actually designing a new highway.

“We’re going to be looking at accesses that can be removed,” he predicted, as well as determining the best locations for roundabouts.

Ballenger said a meeting to kick off the access control plan, and public input sessions once the process is under way, are both part of the overall schedule for the coming months of transportation planning.

jcolson@postindependent.com