Rifle road extension needed now, residents tell city, county
The Citizen Telegram Editor
RIFLE — Taughenbaugh Boulevard needs to be extended a short distance to Garfield County Road 332 to help reduce heavy traffic related to natural gas work, area residents told Rifle City Council and Garfield County commissioners during a June 11 workshop meeting.
The extension is in the city’s long-range traffic plan, but until the area south of the Colorado River is developed, the city does not have the money to build it, according to Planning Director Nathan Lindquist. The project could also likely require annexation into the city, he added.
Resident Jerri Ann Renner, her husband, Matt, and several other residents and property owners — between the Colorado River Fire Rescue fire station on the city’s Last Chance Drive and Garden Lane — worry about pedestrians on the narrow road, which has no sidewalks.
Renner said later that the county has indicated it plans to install a sidewalk from the fire station east along the county road.
Last Chance Drive becomes County Road 332, and a long-planned but never-built extension of Taughenbaugh Boulevard to the road would help alleviate concerns, Renner and property owner Craig Wilcox said.
“We’ve always pushed to see Taughenbaugh extended,” said Commissioner John Martin. “But it took a back seat to the roundabouts several years ago. I think if development is going to take place there, we need to talk about moving forward.”
Martin said County Road 332 (which joins County Road 320 at Garden Lane) is a recommended haul route from Rulison to the east, and trucks continue on Last Chance, then turn onto Megan Avenue to get to Airport Road so they can travel farther east.
Renner said her concern is not about the gas industry truck traffic on the road.
“We want gas to continue to be developed here; we need the jobs,” she said. “But we want to coexist, and the road is narrow, so if you get two trucks going opposite directions, there’s no room to pull over.”
Commissioner Mike Samson of Rifle said the county has the tools to bring people to the table to try to resolve the issue, “but we need the county, the city, private landowners, the [Grand River] Hospital District, Colorado River Fire Rescue to all participate.”
And money will always be the sticking point, Samson added.
“As long as the city says [the Taughenbaugh extension] is not a high priority, I’m not sure how we can move forward,” he said. “Are we spinning our wheels or are people willing to participate with some funding? If not, we’re kind of stuck high centered.”
The discussion turned heated when Renner pointedly asked why the city spent around $2 million to renovate the former Ute Theatre into the New Ute Events Center instead of extending Taughenbaugh, which would connect to the county road in front of her home.
“You need to stop pointing fingers at the city,” said City Attorney Jim Neu. “There’s just not any funding.”
After further back-and-forth comments, Renner told Neu, “You can have your hissy fit.”
Neu said he proposed, some time ago, that residents along the road form a street improvement district to pay for the improvements.
Lindquist said in an interview that the city is willing to work with property owners and developers along County Road 332 to annex into the city.
“But that means they have to include a financing plan to help make sure the road is up to city standards,” he added. “That’s how we’ve financed streets in every subdivision; development pays its way. But we realize this is a tough case.”
City Manager Matt Sturgeon wrote in an email that extensions of Last Chance Drive and Taughenbaugh Boulevard were discussed when Rifle Ranch [a parcel west of Rifle that’s due to be auctioned off on June 24] was proposed for development.
“The owner and proposed developer of Powers Ranch knew and understood this thoroughfare would be needed to support traffic generated by a large development project, and they understood the road improvements and land acquisition would be their responsibility,” Sturgeon wrote.
The road became a topic again when a development group proposed to construct a mixed residential and commercial project just south of Burger King on Taughenbaugh, Sturgeon continued. The same city position was taken when they started annexation negotiations.
Wilcox, who owns six acres of land where the Taughenbaugh extension would be built, told the Post Independent he worries the city might sometime decide to use eminent domain to acquire his property in order to build the road.
“I paid a premium price because the anticipation was that Taughenbaugh would be extended,” Wilcox added.
Wilcox said he purchased the property in 2007 or 2008, just before the recession and local economic downturn put the extension on the city’s back burner. The property includes one city parcel and three in the county, he added.
Renner said in an interview she hoped the city could use tax money paid by the gas operators to help pay to extend Taughenbaugh.
Lindquist said the city “works hard to be creative” when it come to paying for infrastructure improvements.
“But development funds these kinds of projects in every city in Colorado,” he added. “Needed infrastructure improvements need contributions from development to make them happen.”
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