Stoplight annoys drivers

Officials are working on improvements to Stock Bridge signal

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The new traffic light at the Stock Bridge Transit Center has Del Herman seeing red.

About 5 p.m., from his Copper Mountain Estates home overlooking U.S. Highway 40, Herman watches as the stoplight begins to back up traffic "all the way through town." It's a stoplight Herman says is intended for the few vehicles and city buses turning into the transit center.

"The city has done a lot of stupid things, but that stoplight tops it," Herman said.

Herman is not alone in his disdain for the light.

Over the past few weeks, complaints about the stoplight have grown, largely because of a malfunction in the light's timing mechanism.

When the $175,000 light was installed in June, city Public Works Director Jim Weber said it would operate on motion detectors, so the light would change to red on U.S. Highway 40 only when a bus or vehicle needed to make a left-hand turn into or out of the transit center.

On U.S. 40, the stoplight was supposed to stay red for only 10 seconds, not long enough to back up traffic, Weber said. In the past few weeks, the motion detectors malfunctioned, and the light went into default mode, Weber said, staying green for about 74 seconds and red for about 28 seconds.

"It's taken a situation from bad to worse," Weber said.

Living above the traffic light, Herman says he sees it turn red even when no one is going in and out of the largely empty park-and-ride center. The traffic it creates reaches almost to the 13th Street light, he said, making it incredibly difficult for anyone in his housing development to make a left-hand turn to go into Old Town.

One of his first questions -- on a very long list -- is why the city did not align the stoplight with one of two roadways that lead to 30- and 60-home subdivisions on the hill above the transit center.

"Getting out of here is just a nightmare. It was bad before, but that stoplight doesn't help," Herman said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation, which controls the stoplight's timing and required the city to build it, is well aware of the problem. CDOT met with the city last week and had crews working on the stoplight Thursday.

"Our customers are very good about letting us know things are not working," said CDOT spokesman Jim Nall said.

Nall believes a change in the weather triggered the stoplight to go from motion-detector to timer mode. He said metal pin connections in the stoplight could have contracted in the cold weather, causing the stoplight to default to its timer.

Regardless of how long the red light lasts on U.S. 40 and how often it changes, many still question the need for the traffic signal there.

"I try not to be too critical on why the city does what it does," resident Thong Truong said, "Maybe 10 years from now, we will see something like that needed. But today, it doesn't work in some respects."

Having to defend the need for the light is nothing new for city staff and elected officials who have long been forced to defend the city's decision to build the transit center itself. The park-and-ride serves as a city bus turn around, a Greyhound station and a place for recreational users to access the Yampa River and bike path. Its 147 parking spaces are fully used only a few times a year, for events such as Art in the Park.

The city installed the light at the entrance of the lightly used facility under an access agreement with CDOT, Weber said. The state had awarded the city a $1.1 million grant to complete the transit center, and to get access on to U.S. 40, the city needed approval from CDOT.

CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said CDOT studies showed a stoplight had to be put in place.

The study looked at factors such as slow-moving buses making left-hand turns into the transit center, the number of parking spaces and future traffic volume, Shanks said.

The agreement with CDOT stipulated that the city install a stoplight after Phase III of the project was completed. Like the entire transit center construction project, the city split the cost of the stoplight 20-to-80 with the state.

Weber said the city had to put in the stoplight or prove to CDOT -- at the city's expense -- that it was no longer needed.

"These studies where done several years ago and certain assumptions were made about transit operations and the use of the site. We may not have gotten to the point that was originally anticipated," Weber said.

But, to prove a stoplight was not needed, Weber said, the city could have spent $30,000 in consulting fees and studies -- close to the city's total cost for installing the signal.

"It's a long, drawn-out process," Weber said.

At the time of the permit application for access on U.S. 40, Weber said, the city also decided to put the stoplight in the center of the two roadways on the opposite side of the highway. Aligning the stoplight with either one of the roadways accessing developments north of the transit center would have created visibility problems, Weber said, and negatively impacted the other roadway.

The city also wanted to put the entrance between the tract of land owned by the city and the adjacent tract, which was owned by someone else at the time.

Weber said the city has talked about posting signs telling motorists not to block the intersection into Indian Trails so motorists can turn out.

"We are moving forward to solve these problems," Weber said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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