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Land purchase ensures Bridge to Nowhere can connect to Hwy. 550

$2.5M settlement will allow Grandview Interchange project to be finished
The Colorado Department of Transportation can move ahead with plans to connect U.S. Highway 550 to the south end of the Bridge to Nowhere, now that an eminent domain case has been settled.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and the owners of property needed to realign U.S. Highway 550 in Grandview reached a $2.5 million settlement in a lawsuit last week allowing highway construction to move forward.

CDOT filed the eminent domain case in 2018 against the owners of the Webb Ranch to acquire land for the realigned Highway 550 on Florida Mesa. However, negotiations between CDOT and the ranch owners, Chris Webb and his sister, Martha Coutinho, have been ongoing for about a decade.

Originally, CDOT planned for the highway to bisect the 554-acre Webb Ranch to bypass Farmington Hill and connect with the Grandview Interchange, also known as the Bridge to Nowhere, said Daniel Gregory, a lawyer for the ranch owners.

“We just couldn’t allow that to happen,” he said.

Highway 550 is now planned to climb the edge of Florida Mesa and skirt the northwestern edge of the ranch, an alignment that was informally agreed on in 2014. The alignment plan will eliminate Farmington Hill, which is steep and dangerous.

The $98.6 million project will require about two years to complete, and it is expected to include two large bridges to cross large drainages at the edge of the mesa.

CDOT originally offered the ranch owners $746,000 for their property. The agency settled for more than $2.5 million, according to court documents. The purchase included about 63 acres sold for $1.99 million. The agency also purchased 25.64 acres on the southwest side of the ranch that will be cut off from the rest of the ranch by the highway, according to documents approved by the Colorado Transportation Commission.

Gregory described the process to reach the settlement as collaborative.

“There is absolutely no ill will. We worked together well and in good faith to get this done,” he said.

As part of the negotiations, Gregory proved the property was worth more than the initial offer based on possible uses of the property, which could include business parks, residential development and mixed-use buildings, he said. The value of the property also includes gravel reserves, which CDOT will now be able to use instead of hauling in gravel, he said.

Any increase in value the property could see as a result of public improvements could not be considered in eminent domain cases, he said.

CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes said the agency could not comment on the settlement because it was awaiting the court’s acceptance of the transaction.

CDOT Commissioner Sidny Zink said she was pleased with the settlement and the planned realignment. If CDOT had not acquired the additional 25 acres, the agency would have been required to build an overpass in order to keep the ranch land connected, and that would have required millions more in investment, she said. The commission voted to approve the purchase of the properties in March.

“All in all, we came out ahead,” she said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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