Highway 9 study outlines impacts of improvements
SUMMIT COUNTY – Traffic on Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge will come to a screeching halt if the two-lane roadway isn’t improved – improvements that most likely will involve widening the congested road to four lanes.
According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released this week by the Colorado Department of Transportation, traffic only will worsen as Summit County continues to grow and attract visitors and if the highway is left as is. The DEIS, compiled by Carter Burgess of Denver, evaluated the corridor and the impacts the five highway improvement alternatives would have on the local economy, highway safety, pollution and wildlife.
Traffic consultants, CDOT officials, local leaders and citizens have spent almost four years evaluating the highway corridor and possible improvements.
Alternative 1 involves widening the highway to four lanes with a wider median and shoulders; Alternative 2 would include the same, but include bus and High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes for use during peak traffic times; Alternative 3 involves four-laning the highway but with a smaller median, which would reduce the overall width of the corridor; and Alternative 4 would keep it at two lanes, but enhance turn-out lanes and shoulders.
A public meeting is tentatively set for June 19 to outline the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. Summit County commissioners and Frisco and Breckenridge officials will meet June 25 to discuss which alternative is best.
“Everyone wants to do the least amount of site disturbance,” said Breckenridge Town Engineer Eric Guth, who declined to say which alternative he thought might be best. “But, we need to handle capacity and demand issues and we’ve got to make it safe.”
Alternatives 1, 2 and 3 would do that, consultants at Carter Burgess indicate in the report. Building passing lanes and implementing HOV times could decrease congestion along the nine-mile stretch of road, traffic flow and safety would improve and transit time between the two towns likely would decrease.
The “build it and they will come” axiom also could result after improvements are complete, the report indicates.
“Skiers and tourists planning to drive to Breckenridge might be more likely to complete their travel plans given the improved roadway,” the report states. “Travel forecasts show this alternative could induce some additional trips and increase traffic volume.”
Traffic today averages between 15,000 to 20,000 vehicle trips a day, and is increasing at a rate of 3 to 6.5 percent annually. At a 2-percent growth rate, by 2020, traffic is estimated to increase to 25,000 to 30,000 cars a day. At a 4 percent growth rate, traffic would increase to 35,000 to 50,000 cars each day.
Bus traffic, as proposed in Alternative 2, could reduce that by 3 to 4 percent – and those traveling by bus could have their travel time reduced by as much as 15 percent over those traveling in the general lane of traffic.
Widening the highway, however, also means CDOT would have to acquire three properties – Re/Max at Main Street and Summit Boulevard, Phillips 66 gas station at Farmer’s Korner and Amerigas, just south of that – and the so-called Antler House north of the high school.
Medians – including jersey barriers between Farmer’s Korner and the Frisco peninsula to reduce disturbance in that area – also would increase safety along the road. Accidents along the highway have claimed five people’s lives in as many years. The majority – 38 percent – of those accidents are rear-end accidents, followed by sideswipes (11 percent) cars hitting fixed objects and broadsides (12 percent). There have been six accidents when people were passing others, four head-on crashes and five when people were approaching turns.
Most of the environmental impacts under any of the widening proposals would be minimal and easily mitigated, the report indicates. However, a total of 1.46 acres of wetlands are expected to be disturbed, and animals, particularly those that cross the highway, could stand a bigger chance of being struck by cars.
Regardless the alternative chosen, construction isn’t likely to begin until 2004. The final EIS must be completed this fall or winter, at which point design work will begin, said Lisa Kassels, project manager for CDOT. The first project will involve moving Highway 9 from Main Street in Breckenridge to Park Avenue and reconstructing the intersection of North Park Avenue and Highway 9.
-What: Public meeting
– When: 4 to 6:30 p.m. June 19 (tentative)
– Where: Summit High School
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