The public comment period for the realignment project of Colorado Highway 9 through the Iron Springs conservation easement ended about two weeks ago, and so far CDOT officials are pleased with the feedback they’ve received from the community.
Grant Anderson, resident engineer with CDOT and project manager, said his office received about 80 comments from the public. Although his office has not completed its review of the comments, because they are required to write formal responses to each one, he said vocal opponents to the proposal have been few.
“As was stated in the meeting (last month), most of the public’s concerns were in reference to the longer walk from the Dickey Day Use Area parking lot to the lake and traffic noise concerns from residents in Waterdance,” Anderson said. “The noise concerns aren’t relevant to this piece of the project, but we will be meeting with those residents in about a month.”
CDOT began the process of improving Highway 9 from Breckenridge to Frisco in 1999. The realignment through Iron Springs is one of two options on the table for CDOT officials. Regardless of whether they ultimately decide to widen Highway 9 along its current alignment at Leslie’s Curve or divert it through Iron Springs, they will have one more section of highway to upgrade.
That segment runs from the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center turnoff to the intersection with Main Street in Frisco. Officials plan to further address traffic noise concerns with Waterdance residents in earnest when they begin the planning for construction, but that part of the project is still several years out, Anderson said.
Although residents raised concerns about traffic noise and a longer walk from Dickey Day to Lake Dillon, CDOT officials did receive the perhaps surprising support of the Continental Divide Land Trust.
Summit County purchased the 30-acre Iron Springs parcel through its open space program and with the assistance of Great Outdoors Colorado grant funding. When the state provides funding for open space purchases, it requires a conservation easement be put in place. The Continental Divide Land Trust has held that easement since 2003.
In 2011, when CDOT officials first presented its Iron Springs realignment proposal, Continental Divide Land Trust board members were adamantly opposed, said executive director Leigh Girvin.
“We learned about the plan from an article in the paper and we were very concerned about rerouting a highway through conserved open space,” Girvin said. “It took us a long time of working with CDOT and the county to be comfortable with our current position.”
The land trust ultimately decided to back the project for a number of environmental and community safety reasons, Girvin said. For example, the original plan to widen Highway 9 to four lanes along its current alignment would have impacted a fen located on the conservation easement and Denver Water property.
According to the EPA, fens are peat-forming wetlands that can take up to 10,000 years to develop. Rerouting Highway 9 through Iron Springs protects the fen from adverse impacts, Girvin said.
There is another peat-forming wetland, known as the Iron Springs fen, that is a popular destination for hikers. Girvin stressed that the Iron Springs fen is located on U.S. Forest Service land, about a half mile away from the proposed realignment. Although the highway would move closer to the Iron Springs fen, officials do not think the wetland will be impacted by the roadway.
Additionally, the land along the proposed realignment features a natural dip in elevation. Normally, CDOT workers would install a culvert and backfill such areas with dirt. With the assistance Colorado Parks and Wildlife, land trust officials were able to convince CDOT officials to construct a wildlife underpass. Widening Highway 9 along its current alignment would require the construction of retaining walls, which would impede wildlife migrations.
Additionally, CDOT owns the right-of-way under the current Highway 9 alignment, which totals about 12 acres. The proposed realignment requires 9 acres of conserved land. CDOT has agreed to deed those 12 acres to the land trust, resulting in a net gain of 3 acres of conserved land, or 10 percent of the current total, Girvin said.
“When you add all these things up, it’s a better deal for the community and for open space,” Girvin said. “We think the change in the long run is going to be beneficial. Construction is going to take two years and people may find it shocking, but we all need to keep the long-term benefits in mind.”
Anderson does not have a timetable to respond to all of the comments, but he said he thinks the responses should be out in a couple of weeks. Shortly after, officials will make a decision about whether to reroute Highway 9 through Iron Springs or widen it in its current location.