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Transportation study yields no big surprises

A newly released traffic study update isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know, but its facts and figures will help in the long term with gaining funding for transportation projects.The 2004 Local and Regional Travel Pattern Study, an update of a study conducted in 1998, predicts that traffic through Glenwood Springs and on Interstate 70 will increase up to 80 percent in the next 20 years.”The importance of this study is it captures our intuition and puts facts and numbers to what we all see happening all around us. That’s important when you go to a grant or funding source to lobby for a local project,” said Randy Russell, senior long-range planner for Garfield County and the project manager for the study.Highway improvements to I-70 and Highway 82 will not be able to keep pace with growth, fueled primarily by an exponential increase in jobs both upvalley and in Glenwood Springs.Healthy Mountain Communities, a nonprofit that looks at regional growth issues in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys, commissioned the study. Local governments received the report Friday.A survey of employees and employers during March and April 2004 was used to update information gathered in 1998. “The previous study was a key piece of evidence in front of the Public Utilities Commission (two years ago) to get unified (local) calling in Garfield County,” Russell added.The new surveys found that only 41 percent of residents of the Roaring Fork Valley worked in their hometown in 2000, down from 48 percent in 1990. Workers commuted an average of 15.7 miles to work, down slightly from 16.8 miles in 1998. A relatively high percentage of workers use the bus to get to work – 7 percent according to the 2000 census, compared to 5 percent in Denver. The survey also found a significant shift in employment centers. In 1998, Aspen was the largest job magnet for downvalley residents. As of 2004, the employment centers were Aspen and Glenwood Springs, which means rush-hour traffic is no longer in one direction on 82 and I-70. Overall, population growth, which the report projected will double in Garfield County in the next 20 years, continues to outpace job growth and housing development in much of the region. That means upvalley commutes are likely to increase over time.With traffic levels projected to increase 50 percent in the upper Roaring Fork Valley and 80 percent in parts of the I-70 corridor, “it will not be possible to increase roadway capacity by anywhere near these percentages, nor would such an attempt be good policy, given the side effects of highway expansion,” the report said.”Relentless (highway) widening is counterproductive” to moving people up- and downvalley, the report said. It recommends “more complete roadway networks” on a small scale. Suburban street patterns “lack collector and connector streets. There is too much traffic on over-used arterials.”Besides better connectivity between in-town streets, traffic congestion can be relieved by improving walkways and bike paths, and increasing the frequency of bus service and carpooling.Russell is working on a county transportation study that will outline a 20-year capital improvements program. Many of the improvements will be at intersections, Russell said.”Congestion occurs much sooner and is much more irritating at intersections. This study reinforces the fact that those trends are going to increase, and it will assist the county on where to allocate resources,” he said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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