Frisco’s congested Exit 203 the subject of state traffic study | SummitDaily.com

Frisco’s congested Exit 203 the subject of state traffic study

Sawyer D’Argonne
sdargonne@summitdailynews.com

Officials predict Interstate 70 exit 203 in Frisco, already a traffic hotspot, will need a major overhaul in coming years to keep up with nearby development.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is officially kicking off a study of Exit 203 this month. Once completed, the project will offer an in-depth analysis of the current congestion issues and potential solutions for improving the interchange to meet the needs of a growing community over the next 20 years.

The project, funded in collaboration with Summit County and the town of Frisco, will examine the area through the collection of traffic and crash data, public engagement, aerial imagery, environmental impact analysis, demand forecasting and the eventual development of alternative designs.

"We see kind of a regular backup on that westbound off-ramp at 203," said Grant Anderson, resident engineer for CDOT, "especially on Thursday and Friday afternoons in the winter and summer. It definitely creates a safety issue whenever you have ramp traffic backing up onto I-70. Combine that with the future plans that the county and town have, and there's a lot going on with traffic."

Traffic congestion and backups on the exit off-ramp have been common during peak season for years now, Anderson said. Traffic volume through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel has been growing steadily over the last decade, peaking with record numbers last August. As vehicle numbers continue to grow in the mountains, existing infrastructure can no longer match the capacity.

The bigger concern for residents is the potential for swift and substantial growth outside of Frisco. A massive new housing development has been proposed on Lake Hill, situated between I-70 and Dillon Dam Road on unincorporated county land, which could bring up to 436 new housing units into the area over the next several years.

"The feasibility study is kind of getting kicked off to look at all of this together and see what a 20-year build-out solution is for the interchange itself," said Anderson. "That's why we're going into this partnership with the town and the county, to put our heads together and find a feasible solution for 20 years of growth in traffic. To see what the interchange looks like today and see what options we have available in the future."

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As part of the endeavor, the project leadership team — composed of members of CDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, Summit County and Frisco, among others — will host a number of public open houses to gather community input on conceptual alternatives for the Exit 203 interchange. Despite a number of potential options outlined in the project's scope of work, like building a two-lane roundabout or adding a signal to the intersection, officials say they're still in the initial stages of the project and yet to make any recommendations.

"We're just getting started and trying to flush out ideas through the process," said Anderson. "That's what this study is going to do is put those ideas on paper."

In addition to potential changes to the off-ramp, the study will also look into the possibility of adding an auxiliary lane to eastbound I-70, as well as possible realignments to Highway 9 and Dillon Dam Road.

Even on paper the future of the project is uncertain. Frisco and the county committed just over $112,000 each for the study, to match a $250,000 investment from CDOT. While the study will be completed in 9-12 months, funding actual changes is a much more daunting and time-consuming task.

A similar study was completed in Silverthorne to address traffic volume coming off of Exit 205 in 2012, but years later the study is still on the shelf.

"It depends on funding whether the project moves forward into a design phase or not," said Anderson. "So it's a little bit up in the air after the study gets done. A lot of it depends on if the sales tax initiatives pass in November, or finding other future funding scenarios. It's on our list. But right now there's no construction funding identified."

A coalition led by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce is hoping to pass a new .62 percent statewide sales tax increase to pay for transportation needs this November. If the voters decide against a tax increase, it's unclear from where or when funding might become available. Regardless, officials want to be prepared when it is.

"We just want to be ready in case those funds appear," said Anderson.