BAYFIELD – Currently a one-light town, Bayfield may soon acquire a second traffic signal, and with it a rush of new development that could help alleviate demand for affordable housing and spur commercial development.
The key to developing the northeast quadrant of Bayfield is creating a road on the east side of town that would connect with U.S. Highway 160 near the Conoco gas station and Bayfield Parkway, said town manager Katie Sickles.
“If we start moving forward on that connection, you're going to see a lot of development in Bayfield,” Sickles said. “ … We’re a little cautious moving forward, but this will be really big for Bayfield.”
The proposed road would provide access to about 160 acres of land that has already been annexed into town limits on the north side of the highway. Town planners envision commercial development and about 600 single-family and multifamily units, dubbed Bayfield East Annexation, on the north side of the highway.
Those 600 homes would be in addition to 300-plus homes already in the review process, according to town officials. By comparison, the town of Bayfield has only 1,100 existing homes, which means the town is on track to nearly double in size.
“Bayfield has the potential to grow,” Sickles said. “We have investors that are interested in growing in this direction.”
Bayfield is sometimes described as a bedroom community to Durango.
Families are drawn to it because it is more affordable than Durango, it has a robust school district and it maintains a small-town charm.
Yet, hundreds of Bayfield residents make near-daily trips to Durango for work, shopping and entertainment, including eating out.
If Bayfield’s population were a little bigger, it could attract more retail, grocery, office and lodging developments, according to town officials. That in turn would allow more residents to work, shop and dine in Bayfield versus having to commute to Durango, Sickles said.
A new signaled intersection on the east side of town would be Bayfield’s second lighted intersection off U.S. Highway 160, which bisects the town. The new intersection would also provide a pedestrian crossing, helping to tie together the north and south sides of town.
“Everyone's just running across the highway,” said Nicol Killian, Bayfield’s community development director. “ … And it’s fast. We don't have the speed limits like Durango gets to see. They want to keep ours high.”
When considering whether to build a signaled intersection or lower the speed limit, the Colorado Department of Transportation is guided by federal and state regulations that factor in highway traffic and urban interests, said Jennifer Allison, traffic and safety program engineer for CDOT’s Region 5.
Nine benchmarks – called “signal warrants” – look at traffic volume, pedestrian usage, school crossings, crash data and other indicators to assess whether a signal is merited.
It can be a balancing act between making sure mainline traffic can efficiently get from point A to point B while providing the appropriate safety measures for urban development, Allison said.
Based on early indicators, and assuming growth continues to occur, it seems likely a second signaled intersection will be needed on the east side of Bayfield, she said. CDOT is already socking away funds in anticipation of needing to install a signaled intersection, she said, adding the agency receives only about $500,000 per year for these types of projects, and the signal would cost about $3 million.
“It is in my financial plan to be ready for it,” Allison said.
What comes first, whether the 600-home development or a signaled intersection, is a little bit of a chicken or the egg conundrum. It is likely the new development must meet a certain threshold before CDOT installs a signal, Allison said.
The access road, even without a Highway 160 signal, would be built with a future signal in mind, she said.
“In an ideal world, we would love to put in that signal about the time that it’s warranted,” Allison said. “ … We want to time it where we know this (a development) is going to go in and we know that it’s actually going to operate to this level.”
As for the lowering the speed limit, CDOT again relies on federal and state guidelines, whether drivers adhere to those speed limits, what kinds of traffic-calming features might be employed and balancing travel time while taking the surrounding community into consideration.
It is likely a signaled intersection would go in before a speed limit change is made.
“We're looking at both the possibility of a signal and then, once that development goes in, the possibility of another speed study along that area so that we can make sure the posted speed is aligned with the road characteristics,” Allison said.
Building the new access road largely relies on funding, engineering plans and working with CDOT to make it happen. Town planners would like to complete engineering plans by summer 2024 and begin construction in early 2025.
The town hopes to obtain $1.5 million in congressional spending, other federal and state funding, and possibly grants to help fund the intersection and access road. The town could also use a portion of local sales taxes dedicated for streets and capital improvements.
In addition to providing access to new development, the signaled intersection would provide new approaches to the intermediate and middle schools. If done right, the new access road could go a long way to eliminating a traffic backup at the two schools and create safer conditions for children – including the addition of sidewalks.
Mike Foutz, outgoing president of the Bayfield School District, said the school district is supportive of the new access point. In developing a new approach and intersection, he said the school district has two key interests: maintaining good access to both schools and to avoid being landlocked by the new road so that the middle school can expand.
The middle school will likely need to expand if and when a 600-unit subdivision is built, he said.
Foutz said it is virtually “inevitable” the northeast side of town will be built out. The demand for housing and affordable housing is too great, especially for teachers, he said.
“To me, it’s crisis level,” Foutz said. “It’s making it difficult to recruit teachers. The average person can hardly afford to live here. It’s just insane, so we need some houses.”
Killian said she would like to see more community participation in the design process. The Bayfield East Annexation is a big deal for Bayfield’s future, and only a handful of residents have weighed in. She said there are plenty of opportunities for residents to become involved.
“I think most of the community wants to grow enough where we can have other services,” Killian said “ … They just want it done right.”