Frisco and Summit County government take key step toward I-70 exit 203 overhaul

Jack Queen
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.
Hugh Carey / |

Frisco’s main intersection with Interstate 70 has been a hive of the development over the years, and plenty more building is in the pipeline.

But will the chaotic meeting point of Highway 9, Dillon Dam Road, Lusher Court and I-70 at exit 203 hold up to the added demand?

Probably not, unless some big changes are made. That’s the assessment of local and state officials, who have worked out a $475,000 agreement to study the issue. It’s an early but necessary step in what is likely to be a major overhaul of one of the county’s biggest transit hubs.

“I think it’s kind of lynchpin for Frisco’s future,” said town councilman Hunter Mortensen. “There’s a lot of development going on there and it’s becoming a pretty complex corner of town. This is going to be a huge project. It’s going to set the tone for what Frisco looks like 20 years from now.”

The Frisco Town Council approved the deal on Tuesday, agreeing to contribute $112,500 with an equal match from the Summit County government.

The Colorado Department of Transportation, which would hire consultants to conduct the study, would pay the remaining $250,000.

The county government has a keen interest in the long-term health of the intersection. Its ambitious Lake Hill workforce housing project would add thousands of residents just down the street on Dillon Dam Road.

The county is also planning a major overhaul of the Frisco Transfer Station, which sits a stone’s throw from the intersection down Lusher Court. The station is a hub for not only the county-run Summit Stage bus system but also regional lines, including CDOT’s Bustang service.

Those buses make frequent use of the intersection, meaning traffic bottlenecks there can ripple down through the Summit County transit network.

“We’ve got the Lake Hill development nearby there and that will have an impact on that intersection and that whole area, so that’s part of this study,” county manager Scott Vargo said. “It will look at the interchange itself, the backups that occur there and what other improvements are necessary once you get on Dillon Dam Road.”

Frisco town officials and some council members already bemoan how gridlock on I-70 spills into town at exit 203. Since that’s also where Highway 9 links up with the interstate, the intersection is also the gateway to Breckenridge for Denver Metro visitors.

In November, the town council overrode a planning commission recommendation on a 5-2 vote approving a new gas station at the intersection in what is currently the parking lot of the Baymont Inn.

For some council members, the project seemed like a tight squeeze that would further complicate an already troubled area. The potential for other developments nearby, including some workforce housing opportunities for the town, added to the concern.

“There’s some great land on the Dam Road, even above Lake Hill, and we’ve been approached by some developers for potential projects there,” Mortensen said. (Despite having concerns, Mortensen voted yes on the gas station in November).

Traffic jams are already bad during peak times at exit 203, and the long backups of vehicles trying to exit the interstate can pose a safety hazard. But officials hope that by studying the issue now, they can head off paying the price for today’s land-use decisions tomorrow.

“The good news is there’s a lot of usable land in there, but I haven’t seen any guesses for what a grand scheme would look like yet” Mortensen said. “But it’s important to us because we want it done right and we want a say in what it looks like.”

Vargo said this traffic study will be more comprehensive than most, asking consultants to come up with three possible solutions for gridlock at the interchange. It will also include a plan for a new, eastbound auxiliary lane running from the on-ramp in Frisco to exit 205 in Silverthorne.

“We’re going to get some pretty good actionable items out of this, so we’re very excited to be a part of it,” Vargo said.

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