Town will start with a new turn lane and won’t pursue roundabout
By Mark Reaman
The idea of a roundabout at the entrance to Crested Butte will remain just that: an idea. The Town Council is officially pulling away from the roundabout design process and will instead pursue less expensive alternatives to try to alleviate traffic congestion at Red Lady Avenue and Highway 135.
The council voted Monday to instruct the staff to stop pursuing the roundabout with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). Instead, the focus will be on designing a new school entrance turning lane off the highway at the bottom of the hill coming into town; talking to school officials about encouraging more parents to put their students on the buses instead of driving them to school; and looking at various options to better locate sidewalks to and from the school and parking lot.
Town community development director Michael Yerman got the roundabout message at the last meeting in January and told the council on February 5 that pulling back from the roundabout design process could save the town between $150,000 and $200,000.
In a memo to the council, Yerman stated that the staff hoped the construction of a new entrance lane to the school parking lot in 2019 “improves intersection movements and delays the need for the intersection improvements at the Red Lady Avenue/Highway 135 intersection into the future.”
“At the last meeting the council expressed reservations about the roundabout. If the council and the public are not behind the roundabout, we can focus on other things and it will save the town money and time,” Yerman said Monday.
Several council members debated the best place to locate sidewalks to make the area safer for pedestrians and Yerman said the staff could analyze various alternatives and come back to the council with options. He said one factor to keep in mind was the effort to direct more vehicles to park in the school parking lot in the summer for special events like Alpenglow.
“Whatever we do, we shouldn’t do anything that discourages people from walking or riding bikes to school,” said councilman Paul Merck.
Councilman Kent Cowherd gave kudos and respect to Yerman for the time and effort he had spent pursuing the idea and funding for a roundabout the last several years, but felt it wasn’t appropriate for that location in Crested Butte.
Resident Chris Myall, who lives on Red Lady Avenue, advocated for continuing with the roundabout idea. “Given the amount of traffic I see over there on a consistent basis, I think a roundabout would have a traffic-calming effect. I’ve seen them work in other ski towns and in Europe and prefer them in lieu of a traffic signal. The turning lane is a good beginning but we have to address that whole intersection at some time. I thought a roundabout was a great idea and it seems foolish to stop now and miss out on some of that CDOT funding potential.”
Former town planner John Hess spoke at the last meeting and reiterated his opposition to a roundabout in that location.
“It would be helpful to change the behavior of the people driving their kids to school, whether they live out of town or two blocks away,” said Merck. “It would be good to get fewer people using that intersection. CDOT funding was eight years away. If we can do anything right away, it’s trying to change behavior.”
“We all know it is a rough intersection and there is no easy solution,” added Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt.
The council voted 4-1 to not pursue the roundabout, to proceed with designing the new turning lane, to attempt to coordinate with the school about changing driving behavior and to consider various sidewalk placement options in the future. Councilmember Laura Mitchell, who has spoken in favor of the roundabout option, voted against the motion. Councilmember Will Dujardin and Jackson Petito were not at the meeting.