Intersection of Doom and Confusion City leaders frustrated over CDOT traffic policies

One of Woodland Park’s more problematic and confusing highway intersections will soon get more colorful.

But if city elected leaders had their druthers, officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) would be forced to take a basic course in road logic. In fact, based on the current layout of a key U.S. Hwy. 24 traffic light alignment in the east corridor of town, CDOT officials deserve a grade of F-minus.

That theme was relayed loud and clear at last week’s council meeting, as several elected leaders didn’t hesitate in bashing the policies of CDOT. “This is a joke,” noted Mayor Pro Tem Jon DeVaux, a frequent critic of CDOT traffic plans, in discussing the latest traffic light change.

Public Works Director Bill Alspach unveiled new plans to add a series of cautionary yellow flashing lights at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 24 and Paradise Circle and Aspen Garden Way (around the turn-off for the Safeway and Walgreens stores). He described these additions as part of the cutting edge of highway traffic light technology, aimed at encouraging safety. This type of flashing light signalization could become a new trend across the state for problematic intersections, according to Alspach. The area in question, located on the east-side of Woodland Park, has experienced many serious accidents over the last five years, according to officials.

And when the controversy brewed over the Chicken Man costume character, who frequently waves to motorists near this intersection along Hwy. 24, some business owners initially worried about his safety.

As a result, state authorities have proposed enhancements in the lighting system.

Under the new plan, motorists would be greeted with yellow flashing lights, when trying to make left turns from Hwy. 24 onto Aspen Garden Way and Paradise Circle. “It gets people’s attention,” said Alspach. Plus, the lights would be timed in a way to minimize any potential traffic conflicts.

In the past, a green signal at both sides of the highway have sometimes provided motorists with a false sense of security, when making left turns from Hwy. 24 into the Safeway shopping center or Walgreens, according to officials. City Manager David Buttery said the changes are prompted by a desire for more safety and to “eliminate some of the confusion.”

The new yellow, flashing lights are aimed at establishing more clear-cut permissive turns in this area. This means that motorists can make these movements, but are being advised to do so with caution.

The council, while giving Alspach a pat on the back for the efforts he has made in working with CDOT, were less than happy over the final product.

“The problem has nothing to do with the lights,” blasted DeVaux. “It is the geometry of the intersection. You can’t see oncoming traffic. You go at your own risk.”

Councilman Eric Smith, who works as a traffic engineer and planning consultant, echoed similar sentiments. “We are not making the intersection safer. The problem has nothing to do with light signals.”

Moreover, he doubted the proposed light changes would produce any substantial reductions in collisions. “It has to do with geometry and speed. Unfortunately, it is 45 miles per hour there.”

However, he complimented Alspach in trying to work with CDOT in dealing with a poorly designed intersection and light system.

Ultimately, he suggested that a more full-proof safer system would involve having separate left turn lights for motorists accessing these shopping areas, similar to what is implemented at the Wal-Mart turnoff at U.S. Hwy. 24 and Morning Sun.

Like or not, the flashing yellow lights will become a permanent fixture starting this week.

New infrastructure standards introduced
In other major public works developments, the city last week outlined new engineering requirements that could up the costs of development locally. At the same time, they would give the city more assurance in having better paved streets and infrastructure.

“This brings the engineering specifications into the next century,” stated Alspach. He noted the last time the city had detailed engineering rules was in 1981, when gravel roads were the norm.

As a result, the new rules address the requirements for paved roads, storm sewage, soil compositions, modern piping and materials and other engineering details of the development process.

The new rules didn’t get a warm response by longtime developer William Brown. He warned the council that the rules could further strap the slumping housing and building industry with additional costs. “There are some significant cost implications,” said Brown. “It is going to make it extraordinarily expensive to develop…There are some philosophical differences.”

However, Brown didn’t delve into any details.

On the other side of the spectrum, several elected leaders mentioned problems with certain subdivisions due to outdated standards. Leaders cited specific infrastructure problems at such subdivisions as Majestic Parkway and Stone Ridge.

Other concerns were raised about how the new rules would be enforced.

“My concern is the final product,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jon DeVaux. If it cost more, it should cost more.”

A public hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 3 to address these new rules.