Eagle trying to tackle traffic
EAGLE, Colorado ” Gary Gilman lives on Eby Creek Road and thinks he nearly died there last year.
“I almost rear-ended someone at 60 miles per hour along the highway when I was driving home one day,” he said. “It’s the most dangerous traffic situation I’ve seen in the valley and I’ve been here 15 years.”
Gilman was one of a handful of people who turned out for an open house hosted by the town of Eagle and the Colorado Department of Transportation last week. The purpose of the session was to present seven alternatives developed as part of a feasibility study for improvements to Eby Creek Road between U.S. Highway 6 and Market Street.
The town, state and Eagle County partnered last year to fund the feasibility study. Their goal was a comprehensive look at how to solve gridlock along Eagle’s only Interstate 70 access route. While the study was meant to be thorough, some of the alternatives clearly aren’t practical, notes Eagle town engineer Tom Gosoirowski.
For instance the first alternative, which has already been rejected, calls for reversible lanes. Under this proposal, additional lanes would be dedicated for outgoing traffic in the morning while additional lanes would be used for incoming traffic in the evening. While that might work in a big city, it isn’t really a small-town solution, said Gosoirowski.
“The overall consensus is roundabout alternatives are better than the signal alternatives,” he noted.
Gilman agrees. He’d like to see five roundabouts at intersections along the corridor in addition to wider bridges spanning the Eagle River and I-70. That’s the most expensive proposal on the table.
Two other roundabout options are slightly less costly. The first includes all five roundabouts, but not the bridge work at I-70. The second also removes the I-70 bridge work and features four roundabouts, deleting the one at the intersection of Eby Creek Road and the eastbound I-70 ramps.
Gosoirowski estimates the second alternative will cut around $2 million from the overall project cost. That’s a big selling point, because no matter which alternative is picked for Eby Creek Road, it’s going to carry a massive price tag.
Phasing and partners are the two ‘P’s” critical for Eby Creek Road improvements. Rough estimates indicate the project’s cost will top $20 million.
“We are going to have to break this project up into pieces, because that’s the only way we can afford to do it,” said Gosoirowski. “But right now, I can tell you the town of Eagle doesn’t have enough money to even do the first phase.”
As town, county and state engineers look at the project, they have identified the eventual construction of all five roundabouts as their preferred plan. Additional, they cite the Chambers Road intersection and the westbound I-70 ramps as the top priorities.
It those two roundabouts are formally bunched as phase I for the project, Gosoirowski estimates the cost will be around $5 million. Eagle’s entire operating budget for 2008 ” which includes salaries, benefits, operations and capital improvements “is only $5.6 million.
As for the county and state, financial prospects aren’t much brighter. In the current economic climate, the county is scaling back capital expenditures and the state has indicated funding for previously greenlighted projects such as the Edwards interchange, may be delayed. For now, the plan is to finish up the feasibility study with a formal report completed by April and then proceed on to actual construction drawings for the selected plan.
Last week, Eagle County agreed to pay $155,000 for engineering for the Eby Creek Road improvements.
“From the county’s perspective, we certainly realize Eby Creek Road is one of the most critical Interstate 70 access points in the valley,” said Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher.
She noted that the county isn’t in the position to take the financial lead in paying for the improvements, but is willing to partner up with the state and town, especially for construction drawings. With drawings complete, she hopes the project will be in strong position if economic stimulus funding becomes available.
“Stimulus money tends to become available very quickly and you have to be in a position to take advantage of that,” said Gosoirowski. “We can’t afford to lose any time.”
Gilman, like many Eagle residents, believes the community is running out to time to address the Eby Creek Road situation.
“I’m surprised someone hasn’t gotten killed along the exit ramp,” he said.
When he ran for Eagle Town Board last spring, Kraige Kinney heard that same sentiment. “People have indicated that traffic is the No. 1 issue they want the town to solve.”
Kinney notes his own work commute takes him along Eby Creek Road at its most congested times. He’s seen a number of close calls and experienced nightmarish traffic jams when accidents or weather conditions have closed I-70 and forced additional cars to exit in Eagle.
“I-70 is our lifeblood, but it’s our biggest nemesis as well,” said Kinney.
Eventually, Kinney hopes the town can find a traffic solution that not only deals with drivers but also addresses mass transit as well as other users.
Bicycle and pedestrian use of the corridor has been considered as part of the overall Eby Creek Road improvements plan. According to Gosiorowski, a bike path from Capitol Street to the Eby Creek Road roundabout as well as a pedestrian bridge over I-70 are contemplated. But those items won’t likely be funded until future phases.
In the meantime the town, county and state have paired up for some interim improvements on Eby Creek Road. The first, completed this fall, was construction of a second traffic lane channeling into the roundabout and extending to Capitol Street on U.S. Highway 6.
Additional work, which will be completed this year, includes traffic signal upgrades that will keep cars from stacking up on the westbound off ramp and a new northbound left hand turn signal at Chambers Road.
“But those are still just Band-Aids,” said Gosoirowski.
He noted people are aware that long-term traffic solutions are difficult and pricey. Gosoirowski just hopes the public doesn’t have unrealistic expectations.
“It’s not unreasonable to say it will take 10 years for us to build all this,” he said.