Highway 9 realignment from Breckenridge to Frisco set to begin in ’16
The drive between Breckenridge and Frisco, as well as the bike ride along the Summit County recpath, will look different in a couple years as the two routes swap places in an area known as Iron Springs.
CDOT is moving forward with a Highway 9 project that will add lanes and realign just over a mile of the road. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016.
CDOT officials say the new road will meet a need for faster vehicle travel times and increased safety by eliminating a curve along Dillon Reservoir known as Leslie’s Curve better than widening the road in its current alignment.
Once the realignment is finished, CDOT will have one more section to upgrade as part of its Highway 9 improvement process started in 1999. That piece will be from the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and Frisco Peninsula turnoff to the intersection with Main Street in Frisco.
The state department released its Finding of No Significant Impact report for the Iron Springs alignment project on March 13 after the Federal Highway Administration approved the document finished in December.
The report says that no significant concerns have been raised by individuals or organizations about the project that can’t be addressed during planning and construction, said Amy Ford, CDOT director of communications.
The 76-page document includes all 63 comments CDOT received on the project from 57 individuals and six representatives of government agencies and other organizations. Some individuals and organizations were counted more than once as they submitted both written and verbal comments.
The report also includes CDOT’s responses to every comment, with some detailed feedback to questions, concerns and opposition from local residents.
Residents of the Water Dance community represented the majority of those against either the realignment, the widening or both, and they expressed concerns about increased traffic and road noise and associated depreciated property values.
CDOT officials have said Water Dance residents shouldn’t be affected by construction noise from this project because it is about a half mile away. CDOT plans to further address noise concerns with those residents when they begin planning for construction on the final Highway 9 segment, which is still several years out.
Other local residents were upset about the greater trail distance created by moving the Dickey Day Use parking lot west, and some spoke or wrote to CDOT about encroaching development in Frisco.
Frisco resident Bob Thompson wrote that he witnessed the addition of the medical center, County Commons and peninsula recreation areas since he became a full-time resident in 1989 and is opposed to the realignment project.
“It seems to me that the opinion of those who live in Breckenridge or Silverthorne ought not be given as much weight on this particular issue as those of Frisco residents,” he wrote.
Dan Kibbie, another Frisco resident, wrote, “This project is mostly being done to get the hordes of people to Breckenridge at the expense of other communities.”
Other Frisco residents expressed support of the project.
“The Iron Springs ‘shortcut’ is the best plan and should be implemented as soon as possible,” wrote Robert Feuerriegel. “It completes the four-lane corridor, solves several safety issues and has side benefits for recreation, wildlife, and environmental impact.”
“Moving the recreational trails closer to the lake and the highway away from the lake is a win, win,” wrote G. Bowlin.
Some people commented about environmental impacts, while the Continental Divide Land Trust supported the project after working with CDOT to address concerns about land set aside for conservation.
Several people asked CDOT to reduce the speed limits into Frisco, create roundabouts at some intersections and improve the synchronization of traffic lights. CDOT responded by saying those issues weren’t being considered in this project but some may be addressed in the final segment construction.
Frisco resident Mary Parrott questioned the need to change the road at all because of safety.
“Yes, there are curves and hills — we are Colorado, not Kansas,” she wrote. “It will still be a hill, icy many times, and there will still be accidents. Please tell me what the accident and injury rates are, for the period of say the last 10 years, for the infamous ‘Leslie curve’ stretch of Hwy. 9. Then, let’s take say a stretch of I-70 of the same length, and containing a curve (perhaps in Officers Gulch, for ex.) and look at the accident rate there over the same period.”
In response, CDOT wrote that a safety analysis showed a concentration of accidents on Highway 9 within the project limits, with 67 accidents occurring from 2007 to 2011 that caused eight injuries and one fatality.
During the same five-year period, there were 12 overturning accidents in a one-mile stretch of the highway that includes Leslie’s Curve.
In response to questions and concerns about the bike path, CDOT wrote that it will be routed through underpasses at the two locations where it will cross the highway to avoid traffic conflicts.
Underpasses were deemed more appropriate than overpasses due to the geometry of the road alignment and the surrounding topography.
CDOT also analyzed an overpass for wildlife movement with input from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service and decided instead to create three underpasses for wildlife.
Two of the three underpasses, those at each end of this stretch of highway, will be combined with the Blue River Bikeway crossings.
In response to traffic concerns, CDOT wrote that current traffic volumes are 20,000 vehicles a day, and that number is expected to climb to 31,000 by the year 2035.
Once all the work is completed between Breckenridge and Frisco, drivers will be able to travel between the two towns in about five minutes less time compared with leaving the road as a two-lane highway.
Projected costs for widening the road in its current route and constructing the realigned road were within 5 percent of each other, CDOT wrote, though that cost estimate doesn’t include the advantage to Summit County tourism of being able to maintain traffic on Highway 9 while a widened road is built.
After a public comment period and public meeting in Frisco about the project last summer, CDOT made one change to its evaluation. One mitigation commitment was revised to allow the use of fertilizers to promote revegetation.
The project is now advancing to the final design stages and will be built in 2016 and 2017 with $17.5 million in funding identified through CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) Program.
For further information and project updates, visit the project website at http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/hwy9f2b.
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