Transportation planning under way in region

Plan will cover five counties in northwest Colorado

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Population increases, roadway congestion, highways without shoulders and poor road conditions are all transportation troubles facing Northwest Colorado, according to information provided Wednesday by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission and the engineering company URS.

An open house was held Monday in Olympian Hall to discuss the regions future transportation needs. Phil Anderson of URS explained statistical transportation data to attendees. URS was hired by the NWRPC to help assess the region's transportation necessities for a 2030 Northwest Transportation Plan.

The plan will be for the five-county region, which includes Routt, Grand, Moffat, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties.

With Routt County's population expected to grow from 20,102 inhabitants in 2000 to 34,842 in 2030, Anderson said residents could expect an even greater increase of cars on roadways in the area.

A 1 percent increase in population will result in a 1.5 percent to 2 percent increase in car travel, he said.

The region's population is projected to grow from 53,743 people in 2000 to 92,230 in 2030.

Increasing congestion in the region is troublesome and expected to become more problematic in the future, Anderson said. In 2001, 49 of the 806 roadways in the region were considered highly congested. In 2030, that number is projected to jump to 149 of the 806 roadways, which would be a 202.9 percent increase. U.S. Highway 40 is one of the most heavily congested roads.

Anderson said the northwest region is unique because many people who work in the resort communities in Routt and Grand counties cannot afford to reside in the same counties they work in. This increases commuter traffic, he said.

In 2000, 68.4 percent of employed people in the region drove to work on a regular basis. Nearly 17 percent carpooled, and only 1.5 percent used public transportation.

Anderson said another problem in the region is the lack of shoulders on many miles of highways. More than half of the roadways in the region do not have shoulders.

"That's a safety issue," he said.

Roadways with shoulders are 15 to 40 percent safer, Anderson said.

Many bridges in the northwest region are considered structurally deficient or nonfunctioning. "There are at least 40 bridges in this region that are considered obsolete," Anderson said.

Many roadways also require maintenance, he said.

Forty-one percent of the roadways in the northwest region have what is considered a poor surface condition. Only 39 percent were determined to be in good condition. Thirty-eight percent of Routt County roadways are in poor condition.

"From a safety standpoint, you can't do anything (about poor roadway condition)," Anderson said.

Unfortunately, the transportation problems are too numerous for the limited state money, Anderson said.

"The work's not getting done," Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison said. "Part of it's a money thing." Ellison is also the vice-chairman of the Northwest Transportation Planning Region.

The process for acquiring funding is long and complicated, Ellison said. "You don't just go out there and start widening the roads," he said.

The NWRPC is in the process of creating the regional plan, which should be complete by September 2004. It will include a detailed list of transportation projects that need to be done.

This plan will be integrated with the plans of the other 14 transportation-planning regions in Colorado to create a statewide plan.

The state plan is slated to be complete mid-2005, and transportation funding will then be distributed to the various regions through the Colorado Department of Transportation.

"We're back to a time when money is really slim," Ellison said. "It's getting harder and harder to maintain a high level of (roadway) maintenance."

He said that in Routt County highways 40, 9 and 131 all remain in need of maintenance or renovation.

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