Preparing for Highway Alternatives with no Bypass

IMG_7378-EditPreparing for Highway Alternatives with no Bypass

Woodland Park Traffic study kicks off this week

Rick Langenberg

Woodland Park residents and business owners in the 1990s debated the future of the main thoroughfare through town and prepared for the construction of a $60 million-plus highway bypass.

These proposals also called for the elimination of all Hwy. 24 parking, the addition of medians and special landscaping and considerable streetscape work.

It was a tough process that featured many political battles and drew crowds of 250 people at local meetings. The final consensus was to approve a bypass route that didn’t impact that many properties, but to take major steps towards improving the aesthetic look of the downtown corridor in preparation for a highway that would be completely rerouted away from the main core of commerce. At times, the debate pitted business owners against residents.

Now, two decades later, the town is poised for the next stage of transportation enhancements with many of the same concerns, but without any hope of a bypass route or a huge high-dollar funding rescue project by Uncle Sam and the state. This next chapter of transportation improvements kicks off on Wednesday, with a public meeting at the Ute Pass Cultural Center, starting at 6 p.m.

Some recent ideas mulled include developing an alternative route for trucks and bigger vehicles, or following the model of Breckenridge, which re-routes ski traffic with a several block mini-side bypass, while still keeping the main street open to through traffic. Or, officials may pursue such plans as having more traffic lights on the main street, doing a pedestrian walkway or an underground tunnel to encourage travel between the downtown and Woodland Station, diverting vehicles to other side routes, and taking measures to enhance both motorist and pedestrian safety.

However, a clogged Hwy 24 thoroughfare is posing a major hurdle, with preliminary estimates of more than 30,000 vehicles traveling on this road in downtown Woodland Park on a daily basis. This many vehicles can hamper commerce and traffic safety, according to officials.

“We want to get some of the local traffic off of Hwy. 24 and Hwy. 67,” said Woodland Park Public Works Director Bill Alspach, who sees corridor improvements as a big issue.

Woodland Park Planning Director Sally Riley, who has been employed with the city since the mid-1980s, says the access corridor plan, adopted in the 1990s, has reached the end zone.“We need to decide where we are going from here,” said Riley.

The planning director believes the town has done everything it can to improve the downtown corridor, based on previous plans and grants, and now must enter the next stage of transportation development with new ideas and projects.

Riley sees major differences in the next planning stage, as unlike before, the talk of a significant highway bypass has been muted due to a lack of funds. City officials also hope that the new process won’t trigger past wounds, as the highway bypass meetings often featured hostile debates that still haven’t been resolved. At the time, then City Manager Don Howell described a process that “was going to hell,” and hired a group of expert community facilitators from the University of Colorado to smooth out the future transportation pathways. But the consultants themselves often came under scrutiny.

Initial bypass meetings often attracted crowds of nearly 300 people into the old Paradise Ranch facility. Eventually, the community agreed on a bypass route, but concerns persisted that the alternative highway thoroughfare proposed, near the current Wal-Mart store, wasn’t very realistic. The project never gained any momentum and funding didn’t materialize.

This time, a nearly $80,000 traffic circulation study is being led by the engineering firm of AECOM, which recently purchased URS, a familiar company that did considerable work for Woodland Park in the past.

The kick-off meeting will examine past plans and then engage the public on ways to improve the current traffic and transportation situation in and around Woodland Park.

“If anyone has any strong opinions, this is the time to voice them,” said Riley, who is describing the first meeting as a time for brainstorming.

Following the March 18 kick-off gathering, a traffic circulation stakeholder group of about 20 to 30 people, representing a wide variety of interests, will be formed and will conduct a number of smaller meetings. Another large community forum will occur in September, according to Riley.

At that time, the consultants will present a series of recommendations.

The study, which should be completed by the end of the year, is being funded mostly by the federal government and the Pikes Peak Regional Council of Governments, with a small match by the city.

Riley stressed that the study is designed to focus on traffic patterns throughout the entire city and just not the downtown. She said another major focus will occur around the RE-2 Woodland Park school area. Altogether, traffic counts are being taken of 10 problem areas.

The final product, though, won’t have detailed construction plans for future projects.

One of the study goals for Alspach is to reach a consensus on overall local transportation objectives and an agreement on prospective projects. “We want the public to get behind this,” said the public works director.