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Business owners, residents skeptical of proposed changes to midtown Durango

Left turns from Main Avenue onto 14th Street likely to be prohibited
The intersection commonly referred to as “malfunction junction” at Florida Road, East Third Avenue and 15th Street is getting another look by the city of Durango. The best option identified in a traffic study completed last year is a mini roundabout, which could reduce traffic stacking and lessen wait times, although residents at a public meeting Tuesday questioned the feasibility of such a traffic-calming measure. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

A traffic study of midtown Durango completed last year recommends changes to East Second Avenue between 15th and 13th streets to reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and become Americans with Disabilities Act compliant ahead of projected traffic increases in the years to come.

But proposed changes have residents and business owners in the project area flustered and concerned about possible loss of parking space and worsened access to their properties.

At a public meeting at the Durango Public Library on Tuesday, Steve Winters with SEH engineering said the Colorado Department of Transportation is already committed to eliminating the left turn option from Main Avenue onto 14th Street. The traffic study also suggests turning East Second Avenue between 15th and 13th streets into a one-way southbound route.

The traffic study also identified a mini roundabout at the three-way intersection of Florida Road, 15th Street and East Third Avenue as the best option for making the site, known to some residents as “malfunction junction,” as functional as one could hope for.

Lars Hansen, who lives at the corner of 13th Street and East Second Avenue and whose wife runs Handcrafted House at 1323 East Second Ave., said none of the options presented on Tuesday satisfy his concerns about access to his wife’s business.

Lars Hansen, right, and his wife live on the corner of 13th Street and East Second Avenue. Hansen didn’t approve of preliminary mock-ups presented by the city about plans to redesign midtown from 15th Street to 13th Street, including the possibility of turning East Second Avenue into a one-way road. He said he is worried about access to his wife’s business and other businesses and residences in the project area. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

He said his wife sells paints, stains, plastics and sealers and relies on deliveries by semi trucks and UPS vans.

“We’re immensely relying on our parking,” he said.

Hansen brought his own presentation materials to the multimodal meeting to demonstrate to attendees other options that don’t turn East Second Street into a one-way or eliminate left turns onto 14th Street from Main Avenue.

The topmost image on Hansen’s poster board showed a large red “X” over the project area, accompanied by “No change” in capitalized letters.

“I absolutely demand that you guys have a meeting with business and property owners in the area affected so we can talk about that before it goes to the public,” he said.

He said the city should reduce speed limits at malfunction junction and East Second Avenue between 15th and 13th streets and otherwise leave midtown alone.

Devin King, transit multimodal administrator for the city, said several alternative designs are in play for the proposed changes, nothing is set in stone yet and feedback from the public is welcome. Additional public meetings will take place this summer.

A traffic study forecasts traffic congestion to worsen at the intersection commonly referred to as “malfunction junction” at Florida Road, East Third Avenue and 15th Street in the coming years. But residents were skeptical at a public meeting held by the city on Tuesday about proposed changes to the intersection, the most effective option being a mini roundabout. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said the city is aware of concerns about access to businesses in the midtown area, and limiting impacts to business owners and residents is an important component of the project.

Representatives of businesses such as Famburger, Smart Enterprises, Automotive Repair and Durango Furniture & Mattress have contacted the city with concerns about the proposed redesign of key streets in midtown Durango, he said.

“While we’re looking at all this, we’re trying to figure out how all these businesses and properties maintain access to their property as well as functionality of their business,” King said.

Durango resident Sweetie Marbury said the suggestion of a roundabout at malfunction junction worries her. The roundabout further north on Florida Road near Chapman Hill works well to slow down traffic, but the Florida Road, 15th Street and East Third Avenue intersection is simply too small to install a roundabout.

Keith Dougherty, Durango city engineer, left, speaks with residents at a public meeting on Tuesday about midtown traffic, pedestrian and bicycle connections. The city is seeking feedback about ideas to enhance the intersections at 15th Street, Florida Road and East Third Avenue, and at 14th Street and Main Avenue, as well as the idea of turning East Second Avenue between 15th and 13th streets into a one-way southbound road. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Winters said a roundabout is the best determined alternative so far because it allows through traffic and traffic stacking.

Several residents at the meeting said the slope of 15th Street give them pause about placing a roundabout in the intersection.

Nancy Agro, who lives on Riverview Drive near Chapman Hill, said she and her family are avid bikers and her son has been hit by vehicles three separate times – once on Florida Road, once on Main Avenue and once near the Smiley Building at 1309 East Third Avenue.

She said the issue with the Chapman Hill roundabout is cyclists are forced into vehicle traffic to ride down Florida Road. Even for vehicles, turning onto Florida Road from Riverview Drive can be a nightmare because cars don’t stop or slow down for people looking to get onto the road.

An even smaller roundabout at the 15th Street, Florida Road and East Third Avenue intersection is concerning, she said.

Winters said there just aren’t many strong solutions for malfunction junction, but a mini roundabout is the city’s best bet.

Steve Winters, with SEH engineering, right, hears residents’ concerns about proposed changes to several intersections in midtown Durango at a traffic, pedestrian and bicycle crossing meeting on Tuesday. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

“A roundabout is going to make the traffic safer and I think we can come up with solutions (for) bikes and (pedestrians) to get through there safely,” Winters said.

King added that one option is to include offramps for cyclists, allowing them to traverse around the intersection without being in the midst of traffic.

The public meeting on Tuesday was just the first of several to be held this summer. King said next steps include more public meetings and opportunities for residents to give feedback to the city, to be followed by design meetings and more outreach in the fall and winter.

Designs are anticipated to be finalized early next year, although construction isn’t expected to start until 2026, and many factors could influence when it actually begins, he said.

cburney@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story misidentified Keith Dougherty, engineer for the city of Durango, in a photo caption.



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