The intersection at Chipeta Road and US Highway 550 is about to get “lit.”

Montrose County and the City of Montrose recently entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to design and construct a traffic signal at the intersection of Chipeta Road and US Highway 550.

The agreement comes as a response to the continual growth Montrose has been experiencing over the years, which has led to increased traffic congestion, particularly at the intersection. Recently, traffic volumes have reached a level that “appears to meet signal warrant trigger level,” according to City Engineer Scott Murphy’s memo to city officials on Tuesday.

The project is being “expedited,” according to city officials. While the project deadline is targeted for late 2023, city council member Barbara Bynum explained in early project discussions that projects like traffic signals can often take several years to complete.

“It’s a pretty typical timeline,” Murphy explained of the two year target. “I think some have referred to it as expedited since they jump–started the project this year to get it going early, using reserve dollars instead of waiting until the 2022 budget to get it going.”

Because the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) owns the right-of-way located on Highway 550 at the Chipeta intersection, the agency became an integral part of the project as a stakeholder and the primary permitting agency.

Montrose County owns the Chipeta right-of-way and is also responsible for offsetting costs. The county will serve as the project and contracting lead for the design and construction phases of the project.

The City of Montrose is also a stakeholder in the signalization project as a contributor of traffic flow to the intersection.

While Murphy presented an update to city council members during Tuesday’s work session meeting, the approval of the design contract was carried out by the Board of County Commissioners during its meeting on Wednesday July 7 due to the county being lead on the project.

The appointment of HDR Engineering as the design consultant comes following the 2019 updated access control plan for the respective area on Highway 550, including plans for the future signalization of the intersection with Chipeta Road.

Design team members will follow the reports and data from the access control plan as they work to conceptualize a design for the project.

A traffic impact study (TIS) was also conducted in 2020 for a proposed development alongside Chipeta Road near the Cobble Creek golf course. The TIS included evaluations of the intersection, a review of collision data and identified that a signal was now warranted, according to Murphy.

The recent study focused on development located peripheral to the intersection.

“We did a final design study on the intersection itself to make sure those warrants truly are met and to understand all the volumes and the volume projections of whatever we build here not only works for today, but works for the next 20 to 30 plus years,” said Murphy, adding that the team wants to ensure that the intersection is expandable as “even more traffic comes on” as well as keeping other adjustments that may be needed in mind for the future.

The project will include the actual design of the intersection, the geometry [layout] of the area, the signal design, each phase, controls and integrations with the rest of the signals, preparation of construction plans, permitting through CDOT and cost estimates.

“Before we go into construction we should have a good idea of what it’s going to cost so we can plan for it and budget accordingly,” Murphy said.

According to Murphy, the project team [the county’s engineering department], received five bids for a design contract.

The lowest bid was substantially lower than the rest of the bids, and Murphy explained that the lead consultant on the team spent 20 years working in CDOT. His integration and knowledge of the area would offset what would be a risk to the higher bidders due to their lack of integrated knowledge, thus leading to a lower bid.

HDR Engineering isn’t new to Montrose. They’re currently working with the city’s Public Works department as subcontractors as they work through the design phase on their new Public Works complex.

So far we’re extremely impressed with them, Murphy said.

Timeline

Murphy said the project team anticipates kicking off the design phase “right away” once the contract award was approved on Wednesday. Design and permitting is scheduled to be complete by next April, according to the city engineer. Once those phases are completed, the team will move into the construction phase, beginning with looking for a contractor to award a contract to and selecting the best bidder. After the county approves of the bid and award, the team aims to begin construction next fall, provided everything goes as planned.

“If you think it’s hard to get a used car, it’s really hard to get a controller cabinet for a signal,” Murphy joked. “How that construction schedule holds up will be dependent on the market.”

For now, the signalization project is slated to end by December 2023.

Cost

The total cost of the first phase of the signalization projects sits at $94,984, a number that will be split between the county and the city at 60 percent and 40 percent respectively. This will leave the county to pay $60,000 of the cost and the city to take on a share of $34,984.

“This was not budgeted in 2021, so it will come out of either savings in other capital projects, or if necessary, a budget supplement out of reserves,” Murphy said of the cost estimates.

While the project team doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the physical layout of the intersection, Murphy suggested that there may be “subtle” ones. It all depends on what the design team determines to be the best “geometry” for the area, according to the city engineer.

“We’re trying to square up as much as possible within an allowable right-of-way, leaving room for future lane expansions to get the arms out so that a lane is added at another point. It’s just a matter of not having to do the entire intersection一things of that sort will all play into the design,” said Murphy, adding that if needed, the team will work on acquiring additional property for right-of-ways.

“In my mind, we’ve got a good team. They fully understand the scope of work that is protected contractually.”

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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