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CDOT lays out road map of improvements planned for La Plata, Archuleta counties

Highway 160 expected to be widened between Elmore’s Corner and Bayfield
Colorado Department of Transportation recently completed construction of a wildlife overpass on U.S. Highway 160 just east of the intersection with Colorado Highway 151 between Bayfield and Pagosa Springs. Reducing wildlife collisions in this region is one of the agency’s priorities going forward. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

La Plata County commissioners met virtually Tuesday with representatives of the Colorado Department of Transportation in Region 5 to receive an update on numerous projects that are scheduled or anticipated to begin in the next few years. The commissioners meet with CDOT annually to review projects in the area.

CDOT has a 10-year plan that includes various projects in Southwest Colorado, primarily on U.S. Highways 160 and 550. In the next few years, drivers can expect to see improvements along several high-impact sections of road. The plan includes $1.7 billion in projects across the state. Region 5, which includes most of the southwestern quadrant of the state, will receive 7.8% of those funds based upon the portion of the state’s roads and population that reside within the region.

The section of Highway 160 east of Elmore’s Corner is due for widening, although CDOT officials told the board that it was unlikely to accomplish widening past Bayfield given the available funding. The state hopes to widen the highway to four full lines in addition to a fifth left-turn lane refuge in the center. The full project is expected to cost $71.5 million, although only $34.5 million has been allocated so far.

CDOT said it will begin the project in stages and seek additional grants to complete it in the next 10 years.

This spring, CDOT hopes to begin work resurfacing 16.2 miles of Colorado Highway 172 from Elmore’s Corner to Ignacio, in addition to Americans with Disabilities Act ramp improvements in the town of Ignacio. The projected budget is $11.5 million.

The following Spring, Pagosa Springs can expect a fresh layer of asphalt on Highway 160 between 1st and 10th streets, as well as new paint lines and ADA accessible sidewalks. Work is currently underway to install fiber-optic cable from the summit of Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs. Work will halt over the winter and is expected to be completed by next fall.

Drivers can expect ongoing construction at the interchange of Highways 550 and 160 south of Durango to be completed next fall as well. The project will eliminate the traffic light and instead redirect 550 traffic to the Grandview interchange.

Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said some constituents were surprised by construction proposals to change the intersection of Highway 160 and County Road 225, roughly halfway between Durango and Bayfield. CDOT held a community meeting in Bayfield to hear community input on a proposed roundabout at the intersection.

Currently, the intersection is regulated only by stop signs for vehicles traveling on County Road 225. There are turn lanes for making left turns off Highway 160. CDOT is proposing a roundabout large enough for semi-trucks to navigate to regulate the intersection. CDOT says that section of Highway 160 has a “significantly higher crash rate compared to that of similar highways.”

Julie Constan, regional transportation director for southwest and south-central Colorado, said Bayfield residents raised concerns that a roundabout could be difficult to navigate for semi-trucks, but she assured commissioners it would be built to accommodate the large rigs. She also said some attendees had proposed a traffic light. A signal would not be feasible for several reasons including the fact that it would increase idle time and would not work toward meeting national greenhouse gas emission targets.

Planning for the roundabout has been delayed a year.

Tuesday’s meeting was largely a listening session for the commissioners, although they did have an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. Porter-Norton raised the question of funding allocation and whether road use by tourists is taken into account. CDOT said it was not, although the allocation process could be up for review soon.

rschafir@durangoherald.com

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