Projected growth will impact transportation

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In the 30-year time span between 2000 and 2030, Routt County's population is projected to grow by 73 percent, from 20,102 inhabitants to 34,842.

Phil Anderson of URS, an engineering company hired by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, said this increase will have a major impact on the transportation needs of Northwest Colorado. "Those numbers go off the board down the road," Anderson said.

Anderson is helping to plan for public meetings related to the development of the 2030 Northwest Transportation Plan. The northwest region is one of 15 transportation-planning regions in the state.

The NWRPC is responsible for developing a transportation plan for the five-county region that includes Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. This plan will be submitted to the state to be added into a statewide transportation plan, which is slated to be completed in mid-2005.

A public meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Centennial Hall for officials and community members to discuss the plan.

"We do some forecasting on the existing system," Anderson said. "We provide (the regional planning commission) with enough criteria to decide what project should go first."

Anderson said no specific projects have been identified or planned yet. The public meeting will serve as a way of educating the community about the projected growth and the impact of that growth on transportation needs.

URS will address a few key factors at the public meeting. Anderson said URS and the planning commission would attempt to develop a vision for the future of Northwest Colorado's roadways.

The transit component of transportation in the northwest region will be included in the forecasting for the first time. The NWRPC will incorporate a Transit Element plan, which will replace the existing Transportation Development Plan.

Anderson said this would be the first time the transit component has been factored into the regional transportation plan.

"Over the years, a lot of the transit studies were done outside of the planning process," he said. "They were done sporadically."

The public meeting also will include a detailed socioeconomic profile for the region.

"We want to hear what (the public's) issues are," Anderson said. "We want every and anything they have to say."

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she has one main transportation concern for the area.

"What we have consistently tried to do is keep in front of the state the need to widen (Colorado) Highway 31 as it goes south," Stahoviak said. "Once you get past the area where shoulders are widened, there's nowhere to turn off. It's so dangerous for bicyclists on that road."

Stahoviak said one of the pressing issues for planners will be to how to handle increasing traffic along Lincoln Avenue. She doesn't feel that turning the road into a one-way street is a good idea. A similar plan was already put into place in Craig.

"They are now sorry that they did that," she said.

The loss of motorists that a one-way street would bring could be harmful to downtown businesses, she said.

Another possibility was the construction of a new road near Emerald Mountain. But Stahoviak said such a plan likely is cost prohibitive.

Stahoviak said a good alternative route for motorists is Routt County Road 27.

"It's an ideal alternate route for truck traffic that doesn't need to come into town anyway," she said.

Stahoviak and Anderson stressed the importance of upgrading and promoting various methods of travel, including bus and bicycle.

"Trying to enhance that is a really good idea," Stahoviak said.

Routt and Grand counties are the fastest growing in the northwest region.

After the final regional plan is complete, which should be September 2004, the county will wait for state funds to be distributed.

That state money will trickle down through the six Colorado Department of Transportation regions in 2005. Routt County is in CDOT's third region.

-- To reach Erin Ragan call 871-4232

or e-mail intern@steamboatpilot.com

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