A U.S. 550 access control plan, in the works since 2017, has been tweaked to allay the concerns of some county property owners. As well, the planning document intended to guide access development, encapsulates minor adjustments to the city’s existing 2009 South Townsend Access Control Plan.
The U.S. 550 Access Control Plan is the result of public meetings, comments and nearly two years of partnership between Montrose County, the City of Montrose and the Colorado Department of Transportation, in part arising out of safety concerns on south U.S. 550 from the Ouray County line. The plan does not mean any construction is imminent; instead, it functions as an intergovernmental agreement concerning major access points, which can be applied — and amended as needed — as development along the highway occurs.
“It helps them all be on the same page, so that as people come in over time and want to do things with their property, everyone has a unified vision (for highway access),” said Andrew Amend, project manager with Stolfus & Associates Inc., the access plan’s consultant. “It’s a planning document, not a construction document.”
Access control plans address access on a corridor-wide basis, as opposed to an individual, first-come, first-served basis. The plan takes into account such factors as how access points affect each other, as well as land use, specific conditions and plans for future development.
The 550 plan is to be implemented in accordance with growth north of Otter Road and around Uncompahgre Road. The plan is triggered only when redevelopment along the corridor increases traffic at a given site by at least 20 percent; when there is a publicly funded project by any of the three governmental entities who teamed up to create the access plan, or for safety/operational issues.
The plan does not presently include expanding the highway to four lanes, but that could occur as more development takes place. Engineering studies identified passing lanes at Trout Road, but these were shown to have “a very low benefit-to-cost ratio” in terms of traffic flow and safety. Passing lanes could be installed in the future.
In order to add more left-turn lanes, the State Highway Access Code requires more than 10 turning vehicles during peak traffic hours. “Access control concentrates turning movements, increasing the likelihood that the threshold requirements will be met,” a plan document states.
Feedback helped reshape the plan, which addresses nearly 200 access points.
Property owners south of Racine Road showed strong desire to continued agricultural uses, over development, Amend said.
“We had been showing a lot of planned roadways that weren’t anything that were going to get built in the near-term. We wanted to plan in the long-term,” he said.
“A lot of folks were a little bit bothered that we might be showing a road that went through their ranch, even though we didn’t have a plan to go out and build it.”
Amend said the idea had been to simply illustrate where county roads might be constructed for highway access, in the event of redevelopment.
County commissioners, in response to citizen concerns, asked Stolfus & Associates to adjust the plan document by taking out the possible roads the draft document showed — a significant change, Amend said.
“Anything south of Racine, we’re not showing roads outside of the highway any longer. Everything north of Racine is pretty much exactly what was shown at the public open house in March. Aside from the changes of removing the local roads, the access points to the highway itself remain as they were shown at that open house,” Amend also said.
Fewer changes were seen on the city’s end, City of Montrose Engineer Scott Murphy said.
The city’s previous access control plan addressed points between Niagara and Chipeta roads, which also are incorporated in the U.S. 550 Access Control Plan. “They focused primarily on Chiepta to the county line, but we did partner with them because Chipeta is involved and we have an interest in making sure the roads are safe, not only for residents, but for visitors,” Murphy said.
Most of the city’s prior plan is retained, except for a minor reconfiguration of the Woodgate Road realignment at East Oak Grove Road; the Chipeta Road intersection and the South Woodgate Road intersection.
The old access plan had the Woodgate realignment extending to the highway and back behind U.S. Bank. Based on studies since, the plan retains the realignment, but would not have the road come out onto the highway, Murphy said.
Previously, the working idea was to have Chipeta Road end in a cul-de-sac and realign the section that hits Townsend Avenue/U.S. 550 further south. Upon review, the city considered the prominence of the Ute Indian Museum and landowner concerns, deciding that keeping Chipeta as-is makes the most sense, Murphy said.
In the long-term, the hope is to install a traffic signal there.
Also where Woodgate hits U.S. 550 south of town “skews,” he said. The new access control plan conceptualizes this being realigned in a way that hits the highway at 90 degrees.
“It really just helps us align. As things continue to boom, this helps us not paint ourselves into a corner,” Murphy said.
The next step is for county commissioners and city council to adopt the new access control plan for U.S. 550.
“We want to let people know we have heard their concerns and have adjusted (the plan) accordingly,” Amend said.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.