Rifle talks putting up traffic signals for nuisance intersection

Whiteriver Avenue backed up with traffic near U.S. Highway 6 in 2021.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Rifle has narrowed in on what a city official says are the two most feasible options for what to do with a notoriously troublesome intersection.

Nearly the past 15 years have seen the city try to map out ways to mitigate traffic issues at the crossroads of Whiteriver Avenue, U.S. Highway 6 and Colorado Highway 13.

“Rifle’s been looking at it since 2009,” Rifle City Engineer Craig Spaulding said. “We went through a big gateway traffic study.

“They came up with 11 different alternatives. They basically looked at any possible option.”

The highest-rated alternative coming from this previous study was to put in a roundabout and one-way couplets at Highways 6 and 13, city documents show. Couplets — a pair of parallel roads running in opposite directions — are used to provide greater capacity for vehicle traffic, according to

But Spaulding told city council during a Nov. 16 workshop that putting in a roundabout and adding couplets meant the city had to make one mile of new highway. This put estimated costs for the project at about $16 million.

Spaulding said that after looking at the numbers, the best options are to either put up traffic lights or install a standalone roundabout.

But the roundabout is the cadillac of the two options. It’s estimated to cost $6 million, while the projected cost for installing traffic lights is significantly less, at $1.5 million, Spaulding said. 

Meanwhile, 2022 traffic volumes show a roundabout at Whiteriver Avenue having lower traffic delays but that signaled traffic lights will produce less traffic conflicts in the area by 2045.

“We know how unpredictable growth in Rifle can be,” Spaulding said. “We don’t want to do something that’s going to hurt traffic in the future.”

Spaulding said the city has received funding from multiple sources that can go toward these projects. This includes $1.8 million from the Colorado Department of Transportation and $600,000 from Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District. Plus, the city is waiting to see if it receives funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

With CDOT and FMLD offering matches, adding traffic lights to the area means the city would only have to come up with about 20% of $1.5 million to pay for the entire project.

Spaulding said if the city was to approve using traffic signals for Whiteriver, it could use leftover funds to make street improvements, like making areas along Railroad Avenue ADA compliant.

Whiteriver Avenue south and Railroad Avenue south are the two main entryways into most of Rifle. This means motorists are turning into these roads after getting off Interstate 70.

Rifle Mayor Pro Tem Brian Condie, however, said he liked that a roundabout provides flowing traffic during non-peak hours.

“That’s where the bottleneck is most, trying to get north onto Railroad and south on Whiteriver,” he said. “This option actually addresses both of them during non-peak hours, and that’s why I like that option.” 

But, based on costs, grant funding opportunities and what Rifle may or may not look like over the next 25 years, Rifle City Council Member Clint Hostettler later responded by showing support for putting up signals.

“As I really want a roundabout — because I think it is the gateway to our town and it’s gonna make it look a lot better — it’s pretty hard to argue with the numbers,” he said.

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