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Plan: Improve highway flow

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

State engineers have a $3.3 million plan to unsnarl the traffic patterns in front of the Durango Dog Park.

The interchange at U.S. Highway 550-U.S. Highway 160 by the DoubleTree Hotel is the area’s worst bottleneck, causing vehicles to back up as much as 1,000 feet at rush hour, said engineers from the Colorado Department of Transportation during a presentation with the City Council on Thursday.

“Its level of service is rated as a D, which is the threshold. If we go into E and F, we have serious problems,” said Michael McVaugh, a traffic and safety engineer.

CDOT’s proposal would boost the level of service to a “B” without having to build an “asphalt jungle,” he said.

McVaugh predicted the plan could maintain service at a level B for the next to 10 to 15 years while also accommodating population growth.

The state doesn’t have the estimated $8 million to $9 million that would be needed to add capacity to the interchange, but its $3.3 million budget should be sufficient to reconfigure the traffic patterns to allow for a more continuous flow.

Currently, traffic gets backed up while waiting for cross-traffic to make left turns.

As an alternative, the state is proposing a new, 500-foot to 600-foot turn lane on Highway 550 for northbound traffic seeking to turn west on Highway 160 toward Mesa Verde.

The longer turn lane is intended to keep the traffic from bunching up right at the intersection while also allowing for more continuous movement north and south.

Westbound traffic would be diverted to the new turn lane by new signs, a painted stop bar on the pavement and flashing red or green signal lights.

Traffic lights also would be synchronized to minimize stops, such as eastbound traffic waiting for the westbound traffic to get into the new turn lane.

Traffic coming from Cortez still would have to wait at the Highway 550/160 interchange to make a left turn onto Camino del Rio.

Councilor Christina Rinderle called it a “creative plan” while urging landscaping to beautify new medians that would be put in to separate the opposite lanes of travel.

Because of joint jurisdiction, the city and CDOT tentatively are planning a public hearing Dec. 18 to get feedback. CDOT also will be meeting with local business owners impacted by the changes.

McVaugh anticipated there might be criticisms.

Because of the proximity, the intersections of Seventh Street and College Drive on Camino del Rio also will be affected. The Camino del Rio-College Drive intersection would get some minor widening and restriping to make it easier to make left turns and prevent traffic from overlapping lanes.

More controversially, a median installed for pedestrian safety would make it impossible for southbound motorists on Camino del Rio to turn left onto Seventh Street to go downtown. This is to give pedestrians a refuge when crossing the busy street to get to Liquor World or Southwest Community College, for example.

This idea is not set in stone.

“If it’s something that can’t be stomached, we want to know,” McVaugh said.

Another median on Highway 160 also would make it impossible for motorists to make a left onto Highway 160 from Roosa Avenue, but traffic on U.S. 160 still could make a left onto Roosa.

Engineers said there is a long history of traffic accidents resulting from motorists trying to make a left onto Highway 160 from Roosa. The engineers also wanted to give people and their canine companions a safe median when crossing to the Dog Park.

As part of the improvements, CDOT also would build a pond to treat the water runoff from the highway before it flows back into the river through a culvert.

Designs on traffic changes are expected to be finished soon with construction anticipated to begin next summer.

Because the summer is the height of the tourist season, most of the work would be done at night to lessen inconvenience.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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