Lowe’s traffic worries some, town touts road improvements
Summit Daily News
With some nearby residents concerned the new Lowe’s store in Silverthorne will increase congestion in an already crowded area, the town and Lowe’s crews are implementing a traffic-engineering plan to mitigate impacts.
Silverthorne’s portion of the work is roughly three weeks from completion, town engineer Dan Gietzen said. The work has included doubling the left-turn queue from State Highway 9 into Wildernest, widening and adding a lane to the Stephens Way intersection as it approaches the new traffic signal on Wildernest Road, and reconstructing the 30-year-old Wildernest Road between Highway 9 and the Blue River, including addition of a new pedestrian sidewalk.
“It’s all done to address existing traffic problems,” Silverthorne public works director Bill Linfield said, citing the results of a 2007 traffic study done to review improvements needed when commercial build-out of the Lowe’s site was complete. It was reviewed by town officials and a separate traffic engineering firm. The level of service at both intersections was at a “D” or “F” in a traditional academic scale, he said.
Concurrently, Lowe’s has been performing infrastructure improvements further west on Wildernest Road, turning the “maxed out” intersection in front of the incoming store into a simplified four-way signaled intersection, Linfield said. Company crews are also stabilizing and restructuring Buffalo Mountain Drive, which will connect to a newly paved portion of the road maintained by Summit County. The necessary retaining wall will also help create a flat and safe surface for its operations. The recpath into Wildernest will also be extended to link to the neighborhood’s existing trail.
The Wildernest Road work is days from completion, minus the new traffic signal, but Buffalo Mountain Drive has seen setbacks that will delay its completion until late summer or fall.
“The retaining walls were difficult because it’s been so wet,” Linfield said, adding that an emergency access route to the Mesa Cortina neighborhood is still in place and is regularly tested by emergency personnel. The road was built on “unstable landslide material,” Linfield said, which has caused problems with its integrity.
“The quality is what it needs to be,” the public works director added. “It’s taken longer than we – or they – would have liked, but it’s important to do it right.”
Linfield said the goal with the ongoing construction is to anticipate development and avoid further road modifications for five to 10 years – and perhaps into 2030. Some changes may need to occur, but “it would take a significant amount of additional development in that area to trigger the need for additional through-lanes on Wildernest,” Silverthorne spokesman Ryan Hyland said, adding that the project is designed for “Easter Sunday” traffic – or the anticipated peaks.
“We’re trying not to be as dumb as we’re accused of being,” Linfield said.
Based on impact studies, Lowe’s would normally be responsible for 20 percent of the necessary improvements, but Silverthorne offered tax incentives to repay over time the remaining cost of construction, if the project was done to meet current and anticipated needs. Additionally, Lowe’s is guaranteeing its road work forever, a promise that goes with the land if it’s sold.
“The roadway improvements in the area of the Lowe’s development are one of the most misunderstood pieces of the project… The two new traffic lights being installed in the area will fix the existing problem of substandard turning movements, and bring a new level of safety to the roadway,” Hyland said.
In an ongoing lawsuit between the Town of Silverthorne and what is now 23 plaintiffs, Silverthorne and unincorporated Summit County residents in Mesa Cortina and Wildernest contend that emergency vehicles would be inhibited by roughly 3,300 more vehicles traveling Wildernest Road and Buffalo Mountain Drive, the streets on which Lowe’s will have entrances. That’s compared to approximately 25,000 vehicles at the Interstate 70 and Highway 9 intersection daily and about 38,000 vehicles traveling Interstate 70 at the same location.
The plaintiffs also question their ability to enjoy their property with the increased traffic.
Judge Karen Romeo, in her motion to dismiss, said that the results of the traffic study and the planned projects render the plaintiff argument meaningless.
“The study is clear that the traffic level of service at every impacted intersection will either remain the same or will improve,” she wrote. “The Town has demonstrated that the various traffic improvements being made in connection with the Lowe’s Project, including the widening of streets, the addition of turn lanes and the signalized intersection, appear to be designed and able to accommodate any additional traffic, so as to result in no measurable negative impact to access or traffic flows.”
The testimony of Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief Jeff Berino that response and evacuation time will be largely unaffected by the Lowe’s development led Romeo to rule the plaintiffs’ adverse claim isn’t founded.
“Traffic engineering is a hard science with established standards based upon traffic patterns and volume,” Hyland said. “It’s one thing to speculate and offer personal opinions about anticipated traffic increases, it’s another to look at the hard numbers and science behind the traffic study. Lowe’s will bring additional traffic to the area, but the improvements being constructed today will more than accommodate this new traffic.”
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