Six-lane highway rears its ugly head
A 10-lane highway – with six through-lanes – may be needed at the El Jebel intersection to accommodate the growth expected in the area, a consultant has advised Eagle County.
In addition to the interstate-like prospects for Highway 82, a report prepared by Leigh, Scott and Cleary Inc. of Denver also says El Jebel Road would need six lanes to function adequately north of its intersection with the highway.
The study has already made local mass transit advocates shudder.
Previous studies have predicted traffic levels could grow enough to warrant a six-lane highway in the Roaring Fork Valley between 2010 and 2020.
However, this is the first time the six-lane has actually been proposed as a solution to traffic congestion, said Bob Schultz, a political activist and member of Eagle County’s midvalley planning commission.
“This is the first leg of the six-lane,” he said. Ten lanes in all The six-lane reared its head when Leigh, Scott and Cleary was asked by Eagle County to analyze existing traffic as well as traffic anticipated from approved and proposed developments in the El Jebel area.
The county wanted the transportation planning firm to recommend improvements to keep traffic flow at an adequate level through the El Jebel intersection.
“I would say my report looks at the worst-case scenario,” said Philip Scott, a principal in the consulting firm. “I’m not suggesting [the six-lane] is what it ought to be.”
On the other hand, prudent planning requires him to lay out all options for county officials, he said.
His report said it “appears” that six lanes “will be necessary along State Highway 82 through El Jebel in order to accommodate projected east/west traffic growth.”
In addition, two dedicated left-turn lanes will be needed on the eastbound lanes of the highway, increasing the total to eight lanes.
Finally, acceleration and deceleration lanes will be needed on both the eastbound and westbound sections, raising the total to 10.
The highway at that intersection currently has four through-lanes with one acceleration/deceleration lane on each side for a total of six. Pumping up the artery El Jebel Road, the unincorporated area’s main artery, would need to be expanded from the existing four lanes to six north of the intersection, according to the report.
The road would need two northbound lanes, heading toward Missouri Heights. It would retain two dedicated left turn lanes onto Highway 82. It would need a dedicated straight lane through the intersection as well as a right-turn only.
Even with all that asphalt, an alternative road is needed to relieve pressure on El Jebel’s primary intersection, the report said. Blue Ridge Road, which has been discussed as a possibility from the Highway 82/Willits Road intersection, is needed as “an important secondary access route,” the report said.
More analysis is going to be performed on the south side of the Highway 82/El Jebel Road intersection. However, Scott wrote it is clear that some way must be found to move Valley Road farther from the highway.
Valley Road is currently only 200 feet away from the intersection, leading to considerable congestion at peak travel times. Scott said spacing of at least 500 feet is needed.
That could require moving Valley Road into the Mount Sopris Tree Farm, which Eagle and Pitkin counties acquired in the mid-1990s for open space and recreational facilities.
Further study of the south side of the intersection will be performed when Eagle County begins review of its own application to build an office building at the tree farm. Study will help decision-making Leigh, Scott and Cleary’s report is going to be used by Eagle County to help set policy and by activists to try to force specific land-use decisions.
Eagle County Engineer George Russos said the report can be a “very valuable tool” in prioritizing applications for funds from the Colorado Department of Transportation and by the county commissioners in a variety of matters.
Schultz said the report should open the eyes of elected officials who will decide the fate of projects such as the Crawford village in the heart of El Jebel and the Willits project just upvalley from City Market. Both projects include significant proposals for commercial development. “This is the nest that we’re making for ourselves,” said Schultz, referring to the traffic projections. “Highway commercial has consequences.”
Schultz said there are alternatives to approving the amount of development that will lead to the projected traffic and the six-lane highway needed to handle it.
The study by Leigh, Scott and Cleary required assumptions about approvals of the Crawford and Willits projects. Those assumptions might be inaccurate because Willits’ commercial portion has languished in Basalt’s review process and the Crawfords have already been rejected once by Eagle County.
Schultz said scaling those projects back, plus more effective use of mass transit, could conceivably reduce the need for a six-lane highway.
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