Grandview traffic mixes emotions
County and city at odds over study of Farmington Hill's future

This afternoon stream of traffic on U.S. Hwy. 160 near Farmington Hill is becoming commonplace. La Plata County recently commissioned an independent study of traffic and the impact that development in Grandview will have on it./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Traffic in the Grandview area has the City of Durango and La Plata County at odds. An independent study was undertaken by the county late last year and takes a look at how development in Grandview would impact the Farmington Hill-Highway 160 corridor. At the time, the corridor fell under county jurisdiction but has since been annexed into city limits.

Last Wednesday, Jan. 28, Dean Bressler, a consultant with HDR Engineering, of Albuquerque, told county commissioners that with the development of Grandview the corridor’s westbound afternoon traffic could surpass its maximum capacity of 1,900 cars in as few as five years. Morning traffic could reach its capacity by 2014.

“It is huge – this is another town going in out there,” said County Commissioner Josh Joswick of the impetus for the study. “Every effort we make to try to understand the impacts ahead of time, the better off we’ll be.”

However, Durango Mayor Virginia Castro said she and other City Council members were surprised to learn that the county had commissioned an independent study, particularly since another Grandview traffic study already had been done in conjunction with the county, Southern Ute Tribe and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“We were all a little surprised that they didn’t let us know they would be doing it,” she said.

She said City Council was not made aware of the study until January, after the consultant already had been hired. However, Joswick said the county had made its concerns over Farmington Hill known for some time.

A car makes its way up Farmington Hill last week. According to a county-commissioned study, the westbound afternoon traffic on Highway 160 will reach capacity in as few as five years./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

“Back in October of 2002, CDOT came and gave us a presentation on Grandview at our request, and I remember saying that they needed to concentrate on the Farmington Hill corridor then,” he said. “Our concerns are not new.”

Joswick said when the first Grandview traffic study neglected to address Farmington Hill, the county decided to take matters into its own hands.

“We realized that Farmington Hill was not part of the consideration,” he said. “But we felt it was important for someone to do an analysis. There was more information that was needed.”

He also stressed that the study is not the county’s attempt to stall development in Grandview.

“We are not trying to derail things; we are not against the hospital or the development,” he said. “We are for something that is done right and making sure that the impacts are addressed in a timely manner.” 4

The county study used CDOT statistics and data to arrive at its conclusions, he said. A final report on the study will be done this week. From there, county commissioners will formally address the city regarding the study.

“We’re in the process of drafting a letter to the city and will be making some recommendations as to what we’d like to see,” Joswick said. He would not comment on the recommendations but said he expected the letter to go out this week.

Joswick admitted that with the city annexation of the Farmington Hill area, the county is powerless to really do anything other than share what it has learned.

“The city has been good about including us in discussions,” he said. “We have no power to stop anything – this is in the city’s hands. It’s going to be up to them to use the study or not.”

Castro said she could not comment on the study without seeing it, but that it will be scrutinized carefully.

“You can make statistics say whatever you want them to say,” she said. “It’s important with this, and any study, that we evaluate with a critical eye.”

When asked if she thought the study would play into any future City Council considerations, she said she was not sure it would be pertinent.

“If someone wants to comment on it during the public comment period, then by all means we would listen to what they have to say,” she said. “But the (Grandview) Conceptual Plan already has in place several safeguards to ensure that traffic is acceptable at every level of approval.”

Durango Director of Public Works Jack Rogers said it was difficult to say a lot about the study based on the three-page hand-out he received, but that he is looking forward to the final report and county recommendations.

“We’d be interested to look at them and see what useful information there was,” he said.

However, he did say that, on first glance, the preliminary study sent up a few red flags.

“The findings were interesting, but we and CDOT felt they were based on a number of assumptions,” he said.

He also said he found it “suspect” that the heaviest traffic was predicted for the westbound, or inbound lane, in the afternoon, when most commuters would be going home from their jobs and likely heading east.

“We think they may have used some incorrect numbers in their conclusion,” he said. “I don’t know because I haven’t had a chance to talk to the consultant yet.”

And while Rogers said he was aware of the county’s concerns with Farmington Hill traffic, he said the timing of the study seemed “odd” given the fact that the city, county and other local municipalities are in the process of engaging in a regional transportation study.

“It would have been nice to talk to them before they did it,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said the study results likely would not have had any bearing on the outcome of the Grandview process.

“I don’t think what they said kept us from making informed decisions,” he said. Regardless of whether the county’s recommendations are implemented or not, Rogers said the issue is not that Farmington Hill will soon be maxed out, but what to do when it occurs. He said the impending regional transportation study is one step in that direction, as well as a way for the city and county to work together.

“It’s clear that Farmington Hill is not going to be able to handle all the traffic that’s coming into town,” he said. “There need to be other solutions and other ways to get into Durango eventually. That’s what we should be focusing on.”






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