CDOT unlikely to block Buffalo Valley intersection |

CDOT unlikely to block Buffalo Valley intersection

Cyclists cross Garfield County Road 154 on the Rio Grande Trail at the Buffalo Valley intersection on Highway 82. The intersection is an ongoing safety concern for the Colorado Department of Transportation
Colleen O’Neil/Post Independent |

State highway officials are not inclined to block access at a controversial Highway 82 intersection south of Glenwood Springs where Garfield County commissioners this week approved a new residential apartment complex without requiring any safety improvements.

“Yes, that’s something that’s in our tool belt, but do we actually do that? Only in extreme cases where there’s a serious public safety issue,” said Dan Roussin, highway access permit manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation in the region.

“We don’t go around throwing up a bunch of Jersey barriers unless there’s a good reason,” he said.

While “disappointed” with the county commissioners’ decision Monday to approve a developer’s plans for the 54-unit Buffalo Valley Apartments without requiring a formal highway access permit or requiring safety upgrades, Roussin said it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

“Ultimately, Garfield County is still one of our partners, and we need to work with them to get through these issues,” Roussin said.

County commissioners, on a 2-1 vote, approved a development plan that was essentially the same, minus three apartment units, as one the same commissioners denied last year over concerns about safety at the busy highway intersection.

Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and John Martin said they would prefer to approve the development, citing a need for rental housing in the area, without requiring extra traffic studies or an access permit that could trigger expensive intersection improvements, and see where the chips fall.

The county was already put on notice last month by Roussin that it is out of compliance with the state’s Highway Access Code because of another new use the commissioners approved in that same vicinity last summer.

When the private Skylark School was given permission to begin operating out of the Mountain View Church, located just north of the Buffalo Valley site, several safety improvements were recommended by traffic engineers to improve access into and out of the private properties, and onto the highway.

“Yet, the improvements have not been completed, even though the school is now open and operational,” Roussin wrote in the Feb. 23 letter to the county commissioners.

The “non-compliance” occurred when the county approved the school use, he said. The county was to remedy the situation by applying for a new highway access permit, but that hasn’t happened, he noted.

Roussin said Wednesday that he is awaiting a formal response from the county on that matter.

“The issue we have out there is that there are three driveways within 300 feet of a major state highway, and how best to ensure safety in getting people in and out of there when these developments are at full build-out,” Roussin said.

The school now has less than a quarter of the 108 students for which it was approved. Once the school and apartment complex are at full capacity, plus traffic from an existing mobile home park and other uses in the vicinity, “there’s a potential for having over 200 trips in a peak hour” at that intersection, Roussin said.

Complicating any improvements at the intersection, which is already controlled by a traffic signal, is the Rio Grande Trail crossing at that same point. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which manages the railbanked trail and inactive rail corridor, places restrictions on any reconfigured crossings that could impact future rail reactivation.

“We need to keep working with county staff and see what we can do there, and how we can make it a win-win for everybody involved,” Roussin said.

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