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Durango business group upset Camino underpass may be delayed

Project would connect Animas River Trail with downtown corridor
Pedestrians and a cyclist cross Camino del Rio at 12th Street in March as construction crews work on the HAWK lights. A planned underpass, dubbed the Camino Crossing, has been delayed until at least 2027, but the Durango Business Improvement District is concerned the project may get stalled indefinitely. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A long-considered underpass that would link downtown Durango with the Animas River Trail will possibly be further delayed, prompting criticism from the Durango Business Improvement District.

The so-called Camino Crossing, near 12th Street and Camino del Rio, was identified in a 2020 feasibility study as being the best option for funneling pedestrians and bicyclists between the river trail and the downtown corridor. As it is now, pedestrians and cyclists must cross Camino del Rio at 12th Street, where cars often fail to stop at the flashing HAWK signal.

Drivers are supposed to come to a complete stop when the red lights are solid or flashing at the Camino del Rio and 12th Street pedestrian crossing. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The underpass has been under consideration by the city for nearly 20 years, Sarah Hill, Durango transportation director, said on Friday.

Money for the project had been earmarked for 2024, but the Multimodal Advisory Board identified other projects it considered to offer more value, already had grant funds for or thought provided greater safety opportunities, Hill said.

The board is continuing conversations about possible at-grade, street-level crossing improvements as a short-term solution. At least one multimodal board member isn’t fond of the underpass project, Hill said, although she declined to name the board member.

The city projects total design costs to reach $338,851, according to the Camino Crossing project page on durangogov.org.

The underpass would run under Camino del Rio near River City Hall or Backcountry Experience and is estimated to cost about $3.4 million, according to multimodal documents.

It was learned this week the project has been bumped down on a five-year list of priority capital-improvement projects, indicating it won’t be funded until at least 2027.

“That is so far down the road that we are worried the project will not ever be built,” BID wrote in its weekly newsletter. “BID believes that the funding should come much sooner.”

In its newsletter, with the subject line “Save the Camino Crossing,” the BID urges business leaders to advocate for funding and achieving an earlier completion date.

The BID wants a safe crossing of Camino del Rio and a way to connect the downtown with the Animas River Trail, said Tim Walsworth, director of the BID, in an email to The Durango Herald.

He said the BID was previously successful at getting the Camino Crossing project prioritized through the Durango Parks and Recreation and Multimodal advisory boards. He noted the project is under design this year, and as of last year, money has been earmarked to build the underpass in 2024.

He is concerned the project may never be built.

“That is not good enough for BID,” he said of the 2027 date.

A conceptual map showing the Camino Crossing underpass at 12th Street and Camino del Rio. The Durango Business Improvement District is upset the project has been talked about for years, and may be further delayed. The underpass would link the Animas River Trail to the downtown area. (Courtesy city of Durango)

He said the underpass would create safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists; connectivity between “two of Durango’s best assets,” downtown and the Animas River Trail; would lead to fewer cars downtown; and would provide a nice bookend for the downtown, with the train station on the south end and the trail underpass on the north end.

The underpass would also provide another avenue of sales tax generation, he said.

“When people come downtown they spend money dining, shopping or accessing services, which produces more sales tax,” he said. “Downtown consistently produces one-third of the city’s sales tax.”

The Camino Crossing uses funding from a half-cent sales tax that Durango residents reinstated in 2015.

Devin King, multimodal administrator for the city, said designs for the underpass are underway, but are less than 30% complete. Utilities and impact surveys to adjacent businesses are in the works.

The area just north of the intersection at 12th Street and Camino del Rio was identified as the best easterly entry point for the Camino Crossing, which would lead pedestrians and cyclists from the east side of Camino del Rio and out near Backcountry Experience or River City Hall, sending pedestrian traffic toward the Animas River Trail.

The underpass is meant to allow pedestrian and bike traffic to circumvent the 12th Street and Camino del Rio intersection, which is notorious for cars failing to stop at the flashing red light signals hung above the road.

At a Multimodal Advisory Board meeting in June, King said construction of the underpass can’t interfere with the seasonal operations of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Road. So the earliest groundbreaking could occur is November 2023.

The Multimodal and the Parks and Recreation advisory boards are scheduled to meet Thursday to further finalize which projects should be included as part of a five-year capital-improvement projects budget. The projects would be related to those drawing funds from the 2015 half-cent sales tax. That list is expected to be finalized July 20, Hill said in an email to the Herald.

The projects will then be recommended to City Council in August.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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