Avon seeks $2M grant, local municipal support for Highway 6 pedestrian improvements
Town proposes a multimillion dollar project that would add a roundabout and multiple mid-block pedestrian crosswalks
Pedestrian safety along U.S. Highway 6 has been a major topic of discussion and contention for the town of Avon for many years. The lack of safe pedestrian crossings along the busy (and fast) corridor has resulted in a number of tragic accidents and presents a major safety concern for property owners.
In the past 10 years, three major car-on-pedestrian crashes have been reported along the 3.5-mile stretch from Avon to EagleVail. This includes two incidents in 2014 and 2015, at Stonebridge Drive and Eagle Road respectively, where pedestrians were injured, and one fatal incident at Stone Creek Drive in 2019.
On Tuesday, April 27, stakeholders from EagleVail, the Colorado Department of Transportation, state legislature and Eagle County joined Avon’s Town Council meeting to discuss a solution along the roadway.
“We would like to pursue a regional solution to support transit users and improve pedestrian mobility in Avon and Eagle County. To do that, we really need advocacy and support from all our stakeholders,” said Eva Wilson, mobility director for the town of Avon.
Not only is U.S. 6 a major transit corridor for ECO Transit — with four mid-block pairs of bus stops along the highway — but the road has a number of high-density communities right along the busy roadway. According to Wilson, there are 420 residential units that fall along the highway in communities from River Edge Apartments on the west down to SunRiver Condominiums on the east.
“We need to stress the fact that these are residential developments that house many of our service workers, most of whom use public transit to get to and from work,” said Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes. “There is a lot of pedestrian traffic, and it’s a real safety concern, and people have lost their lives. We need to accelerate the solution to this problem.”
One of the other problems along the stretch of road is the speed limit, which is posted at 45 mph near some of the ECO Transit stops. In her presentation, Wilson noted that the survivability for pedestrians being struck at 40 mph is only 20%.
The proposed solution, which the town of Avon has worked with CDOT to develop, is to build a roundabout at Stonebridge Drive to slow traffic across the corridor and then to construct mid-block pedestrian crossings at the other bus stops on the roadway.
While council members suggested a few other alternative, potentially less expensive solutions, such as a traffic signal or just adding the crosswalks, CDOT stakeholders maintained at the meeting that the roundabout was the best possible way to calm traffic in this area.
“Unfortunately, we in our experience and nationally it’s recognized that, drivers really will not slow down and pay attention to pedestrians, and simply marking a crosswalk does very little to raise that awareness of the driver. And for that reason, when the speeds are as high as we unfortunately have here, it’s actually safer to not have a marked pedestrian facility, like it proposed,” said Andi Staley, traffic operations engineer at CDOT. “Adding the roundabout will really change the context of this corridor, and it will really slow people down and may make those mid-block crossings a lot safer and a lot easier to move forward with.”
At the Town Council meeting, Avon staff and council members sought support from EagleVail, the county and state legislators to pursue a grant from CDOT to support this solution. The council felt that having a joint application would greatly increase its chances of winning the grant award.
This new funding opportunity from CDOT is a part of a new Revitalizing Main Street Grant program, which awards up to $2 million to support projects that provide safe access to opportunity and mobility for residents of all ages, incomes and abilities. The grant requires a local match of up to 20%, which for this project would mean the local municipalities would need to provide $500,000 in funding, bringing the total project scope to $2.5 million.
“We’re looking at putting $1 million at (CDOT’s) underpass at I-70 to improve that for a walkway underneath there, if that can get approval. I wouldn’t see, personally, why the town wouldn’t put $1 million toward saving lives, no one has lost their lives yet under I-70, where we have people dying on U.S. 6,” said Council member Chico Thuon.
This sentiment was echoed by Council member RJ Andrade. “Our primary job is the safety and welfare of our constituents. If we have to pay for it all ourselves, I say we do it,” he said.
The speeding hold up
When the speed limit for this section of the U.S. 6 corridor was initially posted, the context of the road was much different. Over the years, as more residences have been built and more bus stops have been added, the posted 45-mph speed limit no longer serves the community well. However, simply changing the speed limit is not really an option.
Currently, in Colorado, state statute holds that in order to change a speed limit, an engineering speed study must be conducted in the area. And per federal policy, the prevailing speed found during that study accounts for 85% of the consideration for a new speed limit. A prior speed study conducted in 2018 and 2019 showed that the prevailing speed along this stretch of U.S. 6 was 47 mph.
“It has made my blood boil to realize that we have federal regulations that prioritize cars over people,” said Mayor Pro Tem Amy Phillips. “Just knowing that this is the bureaucracy we have to deal with is just frustrating.”
Part of the benefit of a roundabout, given this context, is that it will naturally slow traffic in the areas leading up to and exiting the traffic circle allowing for safer pedestrian crossings at other surrounding areas.
A big reason for this working session at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting was to get regional buy-in for the grant and pedestrian improvements. While the roundabout itself would be located in Avon, some of the other improvements would be in Eagle County, unincorporated Eagle County and EagleVail.
Much to the frustration of Avon’s council members, the invited representatives from Eagle County and Eco Transit were unable to attend, other than Kelly Collier, the deputy county manager as well as ECO Transit Director Tanya Allen, ECO Trails Program Manager Kevin Sharkey and County Engineer Ben Gerdes. Collier said that she would bring this up at the county’s next board meeting and the reason for county commissioners’ absence from the meeting was due to a misunderstanding that this “was intended to be a stakeholder meeting.”
Rep. Dylan Roberts, who represents District 26, which includes Eagle and Routt counties, lives along U.S. 6 and attended the meeting to offer his support for the grant application process as well as future support in changing the state statutes that make it difficult to change speeds.
Steve Barber, district manager for the EagleVail metro district, offered his support and said that while EagleVail didn’t have room in its 2021 budget to financially support the project, he would certainly advocate that the board be presented with the opportunity for a financial contribution in future years. He also noted that EagleVail’s business district is facing similar problems along U.S. 6.
“I think it’s a broader scope than just the Stonebridge area. I think the entire corridor is way too high given the congestion that has developed over the last 10, 15 years. There’s a lot more people that are walking, biking, using buses and so the dynamics of that whole corridor have changed and certainly, I’m in favor of a roundabout, I think that’s a great solution,” Barber said.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.