Increased traffic noise and potential impacts to recreation and the environment were top concerns for many Summit County residents who attended a public forum on the proposed realignment of Colorado Highway 9 through the Iron Springs conservation easement in Frisco.
The forum was hosted by representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation on Tuesday, July 29, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco. More than 70 residents attended the meeting to ask questions and voice comments about a recently released environmental assessment for the project.
The proposal on the table is to realign Highway 9 through a portion of Iron Springs between Summit High School and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. Plans call for a four-lane highway, which would ease congestion and make that portion of the corridor safer by diverting traffic away from Leslie’s Curve, said Grant Anderson, CDOT’s project engineer and moderator of the one-hour-long discussion.
Although few contested that the realignment would result in safer travel between the towns of Frisco and Breckenridge, several residents of Waterdance said they were concerned about increased traffic noise as a result of the highway moving closer to residences.
Waterdance resident Steve Baimbridge told CDOT officials he’s seen at least a 30 percent increase in traffic volume since moving to Summit County 10 years ago. He asked CDOT officials to consider constructing sound walls and reducing the speed limit from 50 to 35 miles per hour between the hospital and Farmer’s Korner to offset potential increases in noise pollution.
Local resident Martha Mackie’s concerns centered more on recreation, saying she opposes the relocation of the U.S. Forest Service’s Dickey Day Use Parking Lot. According to the proposal, the Dickey Day lot would move west from its current location to the lighted intersection of Highway 9 and Recreation Way.
CDOT officials say the move would provide safer access to recreation trails and increase the hike to the Peninsula Recreation Area in Frisco by about a half mile. Mackie said she was opposed to that increase in distance from the shoreline, which really equates to an additional mile for round-trip hikers.
“The peninsula is vitally important to all of us and lots of people hike out there,” Mackie said. “I would like to see the road to parking lot stay where it is to eliminate the mile-long round trip, especially for senior citizens.”
Several residents also raised concerns about the potential impacts a highway would have on a fen within the Iron Springs Open Space conservation easement controlled by the Continental Divide Land Trust.
Fens are peat-forming wetlands that receive nutrients from sources other than precipitation — usually from upslope sources through drainage from surrounding mineral soils and from groundwater movement, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
Leigh Girvin, of the Continental Divide Land Trust, said protecting the fen, among other environmental concerns, is vital in earning the land trust’s support for the project. The trust has held the 30-acre Iron Springs conservation easement since 2003, Girvin said, which was about the time CDOT officials were working on an environmental impact statement for a series of improvements along the Highway 9 corridor.
“When the Continental Divide Land Trust accepted the easement in 2003, we knew changes were coming,” Girvin said. “We are not abandoning the conservation easement on Iron Springs. We will be evaluating the environmental assessment and listening to comments to ensure this is a beneficial project (for the community).”
After the meeting, Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll said he didn’t hear any concerns CDOT and county officials didn’t already try to address prior to releasing the environmental assessment. During public comments, he assured local residents it is the county’s intention to turn the Blue River Bikeway — a section of which would be realigned along Highway 9’s current configuration — into the “crown jewel of Summit County’s already sterling bike path system.”
Residents unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting have until Friday, Aug. 8, to review the Iron Springs environmental assessment and submit comments to CDOT. The environmental assessment is available on CDOT’s website.
Hard copies of the environmental assessment also are available for public review at the Main Library, County Commons Building, 0037 Summit County Road 1005 in Frisco, and at the South Branch Library, 504 Airport Road in Breckenridge.
Written comments can be submitted online at the project’s website, by fax to (303) 512-5675 or by mail to CDOT Region 3, c/o Grant Anderson, P.O. Box 2236, Frisco, CO 80443.
The estimated cost of the project is $17.5 million. In October 2013 Summit County received full funding for the project through CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships program.
Upgrades to the Highway 9 corridor have been ongoing since 1999. (See the factbox accompanying this story.) The Iron Springs proposal represents the second-to-last part of that plan.
If approved by the Federal Highway Administration, construction would begin in the spring of 2016 and last two construction seasons, with a firm project deadline of Dec. 31, 2017, Anderson said. Should the plan fail to garner FHWA approval, there is an alternative plan to widen Colorado Highway 9 to four lanes along its current alignment.
CDOT would then begin the process of preparing for the final leg of the project to improve Highway 9 between St. Anthony and Main Street in Frisco.
“When the Continental Divide Land Trust accepted the easement in 2003, we knew changes were coming. We are not abandoning the conservation easement on Iron Springs. We will be evaluating the environmental assessment and listening to comments to ensure this is a beneficial project (for the community).”
Continental Divide Land Trust