RIDGWAY – The Colorado Department of Transportation delivered a clear message to the Ridgway community at a meeting on Tuesday night, regarding the design of the pending Downtown and Highway 62 Improvement Project (formerly known as Streetscape).
“We need to get your input now – the sooner, the better,” said CDOT Region 5 Resident Engineer Steven Cross. “We are coming to the point of no return, where the design is locked in, and we need your direction.”
CDOT Project Manager Brian Campbell stressed that the $13 million project – a collaboration between CDOT and the Town of Ridgway – is currently at a preliminary design level, and that there is still time to “fine tune how we move forward,” based on input from the community.
CDOT envisions breaking the Highway 62 component of the project into three distinct phases. The segment between Laura Street and the bridge over the Uncompahgre River is the “meat of the project” and will get first priority, followed by the segment from the bridge to US 550. If there is any funding left, the segment from Amelia Street to Laura Street will be the last thing CDOT tackles.
From Laura Street to the bridge, CDOT intents to go “door to door,” Campbell said, using its whole right of way, while incorporating a 13-foot median, curb and gutter, and nine-foot sidewalks that will pinch “possibly narrower in spots.”
From the bridge to US 550, the focus will be largely on surface improvements such as striping, and making a sidewalk connection under the bridge, and up the south side of Highway 62.
Improvements to the segment from Amelia Street to Laura Street will consist primarily of widening the street shoulders and building a proposed sidewalk from Amelia Street to downtown, along the north side of the highway.
One of the primary questions that remains to be resolved is whether to impose a full closure of Highway 62 during Phase 1 of the project, rerouting traffic on a detour along side streets through town, or to do a half-closure, completing one side of the highway at a time.
“A full closure can get the project done at a faster pace,” Campbell said, while half-closures would preserve the visibility of downtown businesses during the construction, but would likely take longer and perhaps cost more money in the long run.
Campbell added that CDOT is keenly aware of the Ridgway business community’s sentiment regarding the project, which he summarized roughly as “Whatever you build, stay out of tourist season,” and said that CDOT needs feedback from the community about what portions of the project are okay to work on during the height of the summer tourist season.
“What does the town want?” he asked. “What’s going to work for you, other than saying ‘Pack up and go home’ [during the summer season], which will not work for a cost-effective project.”
Walker Christensen, a Senior Associate with DHM Design in Durango, brought the community up-to-date on recent changes that have been made to the master plan for the components of the project that will impact Ridgway’s historic downtown core area.
The main change since the last time the master plan was publicly vetted at an open house meeting in July was the elimination of a proposal to have one-way traffic circulation throughout portions of the project area.
“The one thing we heard in the [last] public workshop was to revisit one-way circulation and see if two-way made more sense,” Christensen said. “The consensus was that it did.”
One-way traffic flow will be preserved only where it currently exists, on a one-block section of Lena Street between Sherman Street (Highway 62) and Clinton Street.
The current design still allows for fairly wide sidewalks of about 14 feet in the historic downtown area, along with corner curb “bulb-outs” (curb extensions that extend the sidewalk into the parking lane) that promote pedestrian safety. Landscaping features such as planter pots and street trees are also preserved in the current iteration of the master plan.
Two particularly large bulb-outs proposed for either side of Lena Street at its intersection with Highway 62 will make a “nice gateway into downtown,” Christensen said. “If we provide a gathering space and people are sitting there, meeting, hanging out and waiting for others at the Farmers Market or whatever, it provides a more inviting corner pulling you in.”
Together with concrete sidewalks that will provide a textural and color contrast with the proposed chip seal paving material that will be used on the streets in the historic downtown area, the bulb-outs should calm traffic by helping to slow people down as they drive through downtown, Christensen said.
Under the proposed plan, the net number of parking spaces in the downtown area remains the same – about 300. Some areas will have more parking, and some a bit less, than under the current setup. “One goal of the master plan was to have no net loss of parking in the downtown core,” Christensen said. “This balances things out.”
Decorative elements including outdoor benches, lamp posts, planter boxes and bollards would build off of the town’s railroad and ranching themes.
DHM is working with CDOT to ensure local procurement of such items, and to have local artists build the stuff as much as possible. The idea is to have “a family of furnishings that all goes together, and a way to make this project have a Ridgway character by incorporating local artists into the design,” Christensen said. “We want to keep with the old west flavor.”
The overall plan for Clinton Street remains similar to the original Streetscape master plan developed in 2008, with parallel parking on both sides of the street, but with a change from one-way to two-way circulation. The width of the sidewalks – originally 16 feet on one side and 12 on the other – has been evened out to 14.5 feet on each side.
“We heard from a lot of people at the open house event that they wanted this to be a pedestrian-friendly street,” Christensen said. “A lot of people said ‘We want as much pedestrian space as possible.’ But we also heard from the other side, of people wanting to make one side diagonal parking,” which would result in narrower sidewalks.
At a recent stakeholder meeting, Christensen and his colleagues took more input and came down on the side of “really making this more of a pedestrian street,” he said. “That was the original intent of the master plan and we really wanted to stay with this idea.”
Cora Street, meanwhile, will offer a blend of diagonal parking on the west side of the street and parallel parking on the east side, with two-way traffic circulation. There will be an enlargement of the Clinton-Cora intersection (where the Colorado Boy Brewery is located) with bulb-outs to provide for more outdoor seating.
Laura Street, too, will feature diagonal parking on one side of the street, and parallel parking on the other.
DHM has been working with a tree expert from Colorado State University’s extension service and local community members to determine what sort of trees would be suitable to plant along the streets in the historic downtown area.
The Community Weighs In
Several community members at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern about the prospect of Highway 62, through its widening, becoming a “huge canyon of nothing but concrete” and urged CDOT to consider incorporating trees, shrubs and planter boxes wherever possible, including along the median, to create a “vertical greenscape.”
CDOT consultants explained that providing such a median treatment would compromise full access to all of the driveways and alleys that are interspersed along Highway 62 as it cuts through town.
“In order to get median treatment, you would be giving up access, and who would be willing to give up full access in and out of their property?” said Sarah Ciasto of David Evans and Associates, CDOT’s prime consultant on the project. “I would love to put a bunch of trees out there, but it is a balancing act.”
CDOT’s Steven Cross pointed out that the project has been set up with a continuous median “because that is what the town wanted,” to preserve the opportunity for a continuous left-hand turn.
“To back up now is not impossible, but after September, we would not be able to go back and do that,” he stressed, adding that those who feel strongly about the matter should submit their comments to Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates as soon as possible – ideally by the end of next week.
Planting trees alongside Highway 62 through the downtown core is also not likely to happen due to space constraints, unless they are contained in planters, which in turn could impact ADA requirements along the sidewalks, CDOT officials said.
Other concerns raised by various community members included what to do about the steady flow of traffic through town during Telluride Bluegrass Festival while construction is underway, whether the proposed bulb-outs would hinder the ability of large vehicles such as trucks, RVs and busses to turn onto Ridgway’s side streets, and how access to the Lena Street business district would be preserved while work on Highway 62 is taking place.
CDOT officials stressed that many such details are still “TBD,” but that there is flexibility to work such things out, “down the road.”
Next Steps for CDOT
CDOT’s deadline for completing the preliminary design of Ridgway’s Downtown and Highway 62 Improvement Project is Sept. 25.
“Then we will look at preliminary cost estimates, and determine what fits and does not, and what our design challenges are, in terms of construct-ability,” Campbell said.
From there, the next step will be to fine-tune the plan and come up with a final design, final budget and logistical plan, sometime next spring.
After the final design is nailed down, the final project plan will be developed, and will go out to bid in early January, 2016. Project construction will get underway in the summer of 2016.
Comments and concerns about the project should be sent ASAP to Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates, preferably by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 970/626-5308 x12.
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