Grand Avenue could be headed for a traffic jam | PostIndependent.com
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Grand Avenue could be headed for a traffic jam

Dennis Webb

Grand Avenue traffic levels are acceptable now but may not be in another decade or two, a new study has found.The research also discovered that a third of traffic on Grand within Glenwood Springs consists of vehicles that are passing through.David Sprague, project manager with PBS&J, the consultant firm that conducted the study, said it showed that Highway 82 in Glenwood Springs has about a 10- to 17-year life expectancy “before things break down” and congestion becomes unacceptable much of the day.But he said planning for transportation alternatives shouldn’t wait.”It’s time now to get into some action, identifying solutions and moving into those next steps,” he said in presenting the study to the Glenwood City Council last week.PBS&J conducted the study last summer, based on a video license-plate survey.”I don’t know if anyone noticed but last summer we had cameras set up around town at different locations,” Sprague said.The study looked at cars that traveled from Laurel to 32nd Street, and vice versa, within 20 minutes, including any stops.It found that typical pass-through traffic peaked at 2,700 vehicles per hour.Pass-through traffic on Midland Avenue, an alternate route through town, peaked at 245 vehicles per hour.Pass-through traffic on Grand Avenue typically amounted to 10,200 per weekday, 11,200 on weekend days, 73,400 for a week, and 3.8 million per year.Sprague said that annual total could reach 4.6 million to 6.2 million in 20 years.The research found that travel time through town averages 6 minutes in a.m. hours and 8 minutes in p.m. hours, which Sprague said corresponds with other studies’ findings. Sprague graded the current level of service on Grand as varying between C and B. An “A” grade is best, but would mean spending more than can be justified on a roadway, Sprague said. An “F” grade would be worst, meaning there are big delays, traffic is stopping often and maneuverability is low.”C”-level service on Grand means traffic flows from 18 to 24 mph on the road, where speed limits range from 25 to 35 mph. Sprague said weekday rush-hour traffic slips nearly to a “D” grade for service, but generally Grand Avenue “is operating at acceptable levels of service.”Anticipated growth in traffic is expected to change that.If 1.5 percent annual growth occurs in the next two decades, an average weekday p.m. travel time could take 13 minutes, Sprague said. He based that growth assumption on growth over the last 20 years and current city data.However, Colorado Department of Transportation data from the past three to five years suggests traffic numbers instead could increase 2.5 percent annually in the next 20 years. That could turn that average weekday p.m. trip into one taking almost 23 minutes on average.With that growth, Grand Avenue service could deteriorate to an “F” level in 15 years, Sprague said.Even with 1.5 percent growth, what motorists currently experience during evening rush hour could become the norm “potentially from noon until 7 o’clock at night,” Sprague said. Higher growth could extend that congestion from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.Sprague said the study doesn’t factor in traffic that will be associated with the Glenwood Meadows commercial and residential project, scheduled to open later this year.”I’m concerned that’s going to be a problem, and I guess we’ll know in a year,” said City Council member Joe O’Donnell.Council member Bruce Christensen expressed concern that CDOT’s interests for Grand Avenue and the city’s may be “at counter purposes.”CDOT is in the business of expediting traffic flow on places such as Highway 82, Christensen said. While that flow might be adequate for CDOT’s purposes, “the problem we keep running into is that the highway is a problem for our community now.”Christensen cited what he called the “socioeconomic impacts” of Highway 82 running through town.”Having a highway that meets your needs, it runs counter to what we’re trying to do,” Christensen told CDOT officials who attended last week’s presentation by Sprague.He called it “almost disappointing” that Highway 82 will work for as many as 15 to 20 years for CDOT, even as things get worse for the city.Christensen invited CDOT to have a representative sit on a temporary city committee that is beginning to look at ways to calm traffic and improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.Jim Nall, region traffic and safety engineer for CDOT in Grand Junction, agreed it would be wise to have the agency participate, and said it would begin doing so.Skip Hudson, a CDOT traffic engineer, said CDOT and the city don’t have competing goals. He said the agency is interested in helping communities solve problems, as it did by agreeing to install a traffic light for pedestrians at Sayre Park on Grand Avenue.”We not just a highway capacity agency. We like to come together with communities,” he said.Council member Larry Beckwith pointed out that Grand Avenue traffic averages 27,000 vehicles a day, when in-town traffic is included. By comparison, he said, 29,000 a day pass through Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70. But Beckwith believes Grand Avenue congestion is worse because traffic often stops.Said O’Donnell, “We can see the congestion is going to start happening. Where do we start planning?””If we wait too long it’s going to be gridlock when we start building.”Joe Elsen, CDOT’s program engineer in Glenwood Springs, said the city can start making its desires known now.Hudson said one thing that can be done is to conduct a “corridor optimization assessment” that evaluates future options for Highway 82. That would be a precursor to a more involved environmental study.One option the city has long considered is to reroute the highway onto the old railroad corridor along the Roaring Fork River. The city owns that right of way, which is currently used as a recreational trail.Last fall, city voters narrowly rejected a 1/2-cent transportation tax aimed in part at funding an environmental impact study on the effects of relocating Highway 82 along the river.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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