“The more you plan, the more funding is available out there”
[ By Katherine Nettles ]
Gunnison County leaders and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials are considering how to collaborate for safety improvements and viewshed protection along the Highway 135 corridor. On October 25, commissioners welcomed a large group of CDOT’s Region 3 leaders for a work session on highway improvements, transportation services between Gunnison, Montrose and the Front Range and how to plan carefully for growth. CDOT encouraged local leaders to design specifically for the amenities they want as they seek funding.
Jason Smith, Region 3 director gave an overview of CDOT’s biggest projects across their 700 bridges, 13 mountain passes, seven tunnels and 5,000-plus lane miles in the state, and reviewed CDOT’s main infrastructure priorities like the Glenwood Canyon corridor and Vail Pass on Interstate 70.
Smith addressed the U.S. 50 Little Blue Creek Canyon improvement project between Gunnison and Montrose which has been delayed several times and is nearing the end of its 2022 construction season.
“Little Blue is taking longer than hoped,” he acknowledged. “July 14 of next year is the extension deadline, but we are not confident it will be done by then.” He said they are hoping to get at least three inches of asphalt down before winter, and to keep crews working there until Christmas if possible.
Bustang service expansion, GHG reductions
CDOT is planning to expand its Bustang Outrider bus service by 2026, including routes between Crested Butte and Denver and, once the Little Blue project is complete, between Gunnison and Montrose. County commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck emphasized the importance of Bustang service for Western Colorado students coming from the Front Range and for increasing connectivity to Montrose.
CDOT is adopting greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation measures in compliance with 2021 climate action legislation, reducing GHGs along its roadways significantly by 2050. Smith said they are planning for more electric vehicles on the roads and adding electric charging stations throughout the state.
Collaboration in North Valley
Commissioners brought up their interest in collaborating with CDOT for some aspects of their proposed Whetstone housing project, such as Brush Creek and Crested Butte Community School intersection improvements. CDOT leaders made no promises, but their message seemed to be that well-laid plans were a driver of success. CDOT has several funding programs, including a Transportation Alternatives Program with a call for projects happening this fall. Others include the Multimodal Options Fund with a yearly call for projects, a Revitalizing Main Streets program and a Safe Routes to School fund whose deadline is November 4.
“What’s been encouraging to us is that a lot of the projects we’re working on in this county we actually think dovetail really well with the goals and priorities that CDOT has,” said Houck. He said unlike I-70, the county has to rely on a workforce that isn’t mobile across a large region and therefore needs adequate local housing. Houck asked how to manage the north end of Highway 135 as the county plans to add the Whetstone affordable housing project there.
“We really need to work with you guys around prioritizing the funding and work in a timely fashion in terms of not just the transportation management but also how to get students safely to school,” he said.
He mentioned the Brush Creek intersection as well, asking how to make traffic calming measures and get people across the highway safely.
CDOT officials did not commit to anything, but acknowledged they have representatives involved. Mark Rogers, regional planning manager for CDOT Region 3 listed several areas of concern on the Western Slope.
“Everything is tying into these county roads and they are all getting more congested,” he said. I’m not sure that we can continue to widen and widen [roads], or that we even want to.” He said alternate exit roads for isolated areas are a high priority.
“I think the fact that you’re looking at it will help your community in the long run,” said CDOT District 7 commissioner Kathy Hall. “I don’t think all communities are having those conversations.” She referred to the ”mind boggling” development along the northern I-25 corridor that “doesn’t look terribly planned,” and applauded the valley’s effort to conserve its ranchlands and open spaces and to reduce traffic.
“The more you plan, the more funding is available out there,” agreed Rogers. He said that when planning for traffic calming infrastructure it’s important to design very specifically. “Specifics in design are a key to successful funding,” he concluded.