Sopris Sun

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Highway 133 design rolls into final stretch

By Bob Ward

Special to The Sopris Sun

Years of planning and discussion between the town of Carbondale and the Colorado Department of Transportation will translate into actual construction this September, when crews begin removing power lines along Highway 133.

Electric, cable TV and fiber-optic lines should be completely relocated and buried by November, opening the door to a major overhaul of the highway itself in April-October 2014. A third traffic lane will be added in the center of the highway to function as a left-turn lane for both northbound and southbound cars, and a new roundabout will take the place of the existing signalized intersection at Main Street and 133.

While they’re at it, crews will also make a series of pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented improvements — adding paved trails and crosswalks to ease travel along the highway and across the highway.

“The widening of the corridor and the dedicated left-turn lane is really going to free up traffic, and we won’t have stoppages and bottlenecks,” said Carbondale Public Works Director Larry Ballenger. “Additionally, bikes and pedestrians will have a safer path to walk up and down the highway, and they’ll have safer places to cross the highway.”

In CDOT parlance, the $6.435 million project involves “safety and operational improvements.” CDOT engineers have recommended Highway 133 be expanded to four lanes — a so-called capacity improvement — but locals feared a four-lane highway would bisect Carbondale even more than two-lane Highway 133 already does. State and local officials agreed that the two-way, left-turn lane could relieve congestion between Dolores Way and Main Street. When coupled with the various pedestrian/bike upgrades, Ballenger said, the upcoming project should satisfy both traffic engineers and Carbondale residents.

“Highway 133 is going to be difficult for pedestrians to navigate no matter what we do,” Ballenger said. “But CDOT has listened to the town, they’ve reviewed our comprehensive plan and they understand how important it is to the town not to have a highway that segments the community into east and west.”

An open house from 5-7 p.m. at Carbondale Town Hall on July 17 will be locals’ best chance to learn more about the details of the project and ask questions of the experts.

Long time coming

More than a decade ago, growing levels of traffic on Highway 133, especially between the Highway 82 junction and Main Street, prompted state and local officials to begin exploring long-term solutions. Aside from expanding the highway, state officials have also recommended pedestrian overpasses in certain locations so walkers and bikers can easily cross without interrupting traffic.

A recent letter to town officials, Resident Engineer Roland Weber said “in 20 years the volume of traffic on (Highway) 133 north of Main Street will be comparable to existing traffic volumes on the (Highway) 82 corridor. Several grade-separated pedestrian crossings are currently being planned by local governments on the (Highway) 82 corridor, including at Willits, Basalt and the Aspen Airport Business Center.”

Such grade-separated crossings are under discussion for places like the Roaring Fork Transit Authority park-and-ride on Highway 133, but won’t happen in 2014. The centerpiece of the upcoming project is probably the roundabout, which will affect virtually every Carbondale resident, not to mention all who bypass Carbondale on their way to Redstone or Paonia. In addition to changing the way drivers turn from one road to another; the roundabout should also serve as an aesthetic entrance to the town, perhaps including a James Surls sculpture.

“A roundabout presents the opportunity for a gateway feature by allowing for unique landscaping or artwork at the center,” said CDOT Project Manager Bart Necessary.

Perhaps most important, at least in the minds of the engineers, roundabouts reduce accidents. A recent memo from CDOT said crashes in general drop by 48 percent when intersections are switched from stoplights to roundabouts, and injury crashes drop by up to 78 percent.

Partly for that reason, future roundabouts are envisioned where Highway 133 meets Nieslanik Avenue and Industry Way (both of which dead-end at the highway from the east in the Roaring Fork Co-Op area), and Weant Boulevard. However, Necessary added, those roundabouts are tied to future development proposals and aren’t part of the 2014 project.

For his part, Ballenger said the roundabout will enable safer pedestrian movement across the intersection, and drivers will access the various businesses in the vicinity just as they do now.

“I didn’t know anything about roundabouts before we went into this, but I did a lot of reading,” Ballenger said. “The more I read, the more my mind was placed at ease.”

Funding for the $6.435 million project is coming mostly from the state ($5.435 million), with $500,000 contributions from both Carbondale and Garfield County.

List of components in the

2014 construction package:

• Shoulder widening and addition of a two-way, left-turn lane between Dolores and Main.

• Highway 133/Main Street roundabout.

• Asphalt resurfacing from Cowen to Dolores, and Main to Meadowood Drive.

• New pedestrian path along east side of Highway 133 from Roaring Fork River to Cowen Drive.

• New pedestrian path on west side of Highway 133 from Village Road to Main, and from Main to Hendrick Drive.

• Stoplight and pedestrian crossing at Snowmass Drive, plus pedestrian crossings at Cowen Drive, the Main Street roundabout and Hendrick Drive.

• Utility relocation and under-grounding (scheduled to occur first, in fall 2013).