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Highway 133 design rolls into final stretch

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By Bob Ward

Special to The Sopris Sun

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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).

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