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Eagle’s rough edge

Jon Stavney

The Eagle Area Community Plan Update process this winter presents the citizens an opportunity to envision our growing town into the future. The first community plan has stood as a planning guide for 10 years and a prism to view every major development at the town since. This is an auspicious time, and an update could address a multitude of opportunities and challenges. This column focuses on challenges related to traffic, specifically along Highway 6.When I was first elected eight years ago, many citizens viewed the Highway 6 corridor as defining our rural town character. Presumably this rough edge would keep out riff raff, which at the time meant resort-oriented folks loaded with money, changes and expensive vehicles. These days, a cultural firewall no longer seems a reasonable justification for blight. Highway 6 desperately needs a face lift for a variety of reasons, both practical and aesthetic. A directive from the citizens committee heading up the community plan update ought to address a palette of issues.First, this part of town could be attractive and efficient. Due to Sylvan Lake Road, Highway 6 is now the entry for Eagle Ranch and the Brush Creek valley. To visitors traveling into Eagle from the west, with, say, a car full of Costco bags, it is not clear from Corky’s inward that Eagle is open for business. While the Citizen Advisory Committee should send a message that Highway 6 is a priority, a variety of other opportunities should also be explored. – for instance, landscaping the half-abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way, which the town received permission to do in 2006. How aggressively or subtly should berming and landscaping be? The plan update also provides a chance to reconnect west Eagle (the subdivision behind Corky’s) with the historic part of town. Internally reconnecting town ought to be a high priority. What sort of infill residential development might reinvigorate this neighborhood should be carefully considered. Any plan ought not neglect the fact that this has remained a truly affordable housing haven, and ought to continue in that function. In my opinion, this is a good location – between the new medical center and the Broadway District – for dense multi-family redevelopment. What makes some of this conceivable is that after 15 years of waiting, with the intersected federal Lands are going up for sale, the Bull Pasture bypass road may soon connect the Terrace neighborhood directly to Highway 6 near The Grand Avenue Grill, taking the burden off of Capitol Street to be an arterial road, so that it can become the destination it deserves to be. This, too, will enliven West Eagle by diverting Terrace and Meadows traffic off of Capitol street to this part of town, and reshuffle the deck on these properties.Another monumental opportunity the community plan could address is connecting the fairgrounds across from Sylvan Lake Road to town through a pedestrian or vehicular connection near the confluence of the Eagle River and Brush Creek. This is currently being considered by Eagle County.The fairgrounds remains a vast, underutilized public property largely disconnected from our community. In my mind, it ought to be a river “park” with turn-of-the-century, Olmsteadian ambitions. By linking the fairgrounds and WECMRD ball fields with the Eagle Ranch trail system, significant portions of the Eagle River frontage could be open to daily use by our citizens. The committee ought to put an eye on how the fairgrounds could become an all-season amenity for residents and for visitors. Visioning for this area has in the past primarily focused on improving its usefulness during Eagle County Fair and Rodeo week, which is admirable but not ambitious enough for this river frontage. Last, but not least, there are the nuts and bolts of Highway 6, which will largely be left to traffic engineers. While an access management study addressing the many unconventional intersections on Highway 6 has been on the shelf since well before my time, with 10 straight years of 10 percent or greater growth, the demand for implementation is acute.Engineers study traffic for mobility and access conflicts. Driving west, the lack of turning lanes onto Third and Fifth streets and Prince Alley, and the expansive open access, provides a study in poor access management. On top of that, most of these intersections share skewed north-south street connections where the town grid is sliced by the highway. These intersections need to be formalized, and perhaps marked as alternate entries to the Broadway district. The wide swaths of asphalt in front of Corky’s, Mountain Steel, Boyz-Toys may have served for parking and acceleration lanes before the interstate. Unfortunately, as many business owners understand, much of what is now utilized as parking is in fact the public right-of-way that will be claimed by road widening and landscape buffers. This will be especially challenging for triangular properties north of Fifth Street, and the town will need public support for traffic improvements that will be seen by some business owners as a “taking.” Configurations recommended by state Transportation Department and town engineering staff will increase the speeds (and capacity) possible on Highway 6 and require landscape buffering and a pedestrian plan. Traffic will move more quickly, making these shrunken sites a poor choice (as some have suggested) for retail. That beg the question whether they best serve as dense residential housing as near the town center as they are. Properties with deep lots, mostly south of Fifth Street, will fare better. These will be affected by the widening of Highway 6 to either three lanes (including turning lane) or five lanes (including center turning lane), primarily by the advent of more controlled access. These are still remnants of the old “blue highway” and could use a zoning update.Of course, Highway 6 improvements beg the question about how all the traffic will be managed once it arrives at Eby Creek round-a-bout bound for I-70. But that is a column for another day. Jon Stavney is the mayor of Eagle.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO


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