Woodland Park loses bid to lower speed limit

Woodland Park loses bid to lower speed limit

Rick Langenberg

The staunch campaign to lower the speed limit along the downtown corridor in Woodland Park has hit a huge bump, with local officials learning last week that these efforts may not actually slow down the traffic.

But as for the continual highway closures that have clobbered commerce for the last two summers, definite relief is in sight.

These are some of the conclusions outlined by Karen Lowe, a regional spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation, regarding the agency’s plans this summer for highway mitigation and for safety concerns in Woodland Park during a presentation last week before the city council.

Rowe briefly addressed an issue that Woodland leaders have lobbied extensively for in recent months: lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour in the downtown. In fact, Councilman Bob Carlsen presented a slight compromise proposition that would call for the state to lower the speed limit on two main blocks in the downtown to 25 miles per hour, but then raise the speed outside the downtown corridor.

However, Rowe didn’t react favorably to this concept. She said CDOT would do what it could with better traffic signalization efforts, which she believes would slow down the traffic.

But she cautioned the council that speed studies and posted limits on state highways are complex issues. Moreover, she cautioned the council that adjusting these limits doesn’t always work as a way to alter traffic speeds She said the speed limit was actually raised on a section of Hwy. 24 in the Ute Pass to reflect the realities of faster-moving motorists. But to the surprise of CDOT officials, most motorists still drive at the same basic speed, even with higher posted limits. “It doesn’t always work,” said Rowe, in commenting on the idea of changing speed limits in the hope of altering people’s driving habits..

Instead, she agreed to have CDOT work with the city in ways to improve its light signalizations and future traffic lights to improve safety. “We are listening to you,” said Rowe. The CDOT representative also told the council that she plans to meet with the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce this week.

After hearing of Rowe’s comments against lowering the speed limit, the council didn’t really push the issue. This has been a big concern of elected officials for several years, with City Manager David Buttery citing a big desire to change the behavior of the traveling public when driving through Woodland Park.

New highway closure policies

Other aspects of Rowe’s presentation, though, got much more support. The CDOT representative described a new policy of highway closures that would result in the state no longer doing pre-emptive shutdowns of the main road in the Ute Pass due to flash flood warnings.

She said the state wanted to strike a balance in a way it would “look out for the traveling public,” while keeping your businesses open” and having “your residents (who commute to work) able to come home.”

Rowe didn’t get arguments from city leaders, who praised the more flexible approach, but still wanted to know details about future closures.

Under the new policy, she said the state mainly wants to monitor debris and hazards that develop along U.S. Hwy 24, following significant rain storms and flash flood conditions. And when big storms occur, she stated that three crew members would be summoned to the impacted area to evaluate the situation. She cited areas between Cascade and Chipita Park as the big areas of concern with rocks and hazardous material flowing along the highway.

If the conditions warrant a closure, then the highway will get temporarily shut down with 10 gates installed in the lower Ute Pass area. The gates, located between Green Mountain Falls and the Cave of the Winds, would be closed and re-opened manually, explained the CDOT representative.

Rowe assured the council that the state has invested millions in new culverts and infrastructure to halt flood waters gushing down the Waldo Canyon burn scar. She said many of the closures that occurred last summer were done because the work hadn’t been completed.

Rowe was asked about ways to improve communications, such as altering motorists when Hwy. 24 would be reopened ahead of time. The CDOT representative said the agency would do what it could to improve communications, but she cautioned that CDOT doesn’t like to give people false hopes of a road re-opening at a certain time.

Questions also were asked about motorists using side streets around Green Mountain Falls to avoid the closures. Rowe noted that this issue of alternative routes still has to be evaluated further.

Buttery also chimed in and warned the council that even with more flexible closure policies by CDOT, the region still faces some challenging hurdles as a result of the Waldo Canyon fire and the burn scar.“Don’t take that as false security,” said Buttery, who noted that the area will still face safety concerns following big storms.

In other government news, the city council picked Ken Hartsfield as a new member of the planning commission to replace Phil Mella, who was recently selected to assume the council seat formerly held by Gary Brovetto

But once again, this appointment process got extremely confusing with the council having to make three votes in order to select a commissioner. Hartsfield edged out Robin Pasley, who was one of the council candidates in the recent selection for Brovetto’s position, and George Long.

In addition, all of the candidates were sequestered during the interviews, with the council asking each candidate a variety of questions.

Also, Brovetto received an award for his service on the council and made some final comments. He strongly lobbied for some of the projects he had endorsed as a council member, such as the push for a main street and creative arts district designation.