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Public skeptical of 550-160 project

Proposals for intersection include flyover, roundabout

A Colorado Department of Transportation plan to ease congestion at the intersection of U.S. Highway 550-U.S. Highway 160 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango received a lot of second-guessing Wednesday at an open house.

Questioners wondered why bicycles got short shrift, why a roundabout wasn’t considered, why a grade change wasn’t in the plan, why a flyover wouldn’t work.

CDOT engineer Tommy Humphrey answered queries, welcomed comments and said he would look for answers to detailed questions.

CDOT is trying to uncork the interchange bottleneck, which at rush hour backs up traffic for 1,000 feet. It’s the area’s most congested point.

The annualized average traffic on Highway 550 at the intersection increased from 20,900 vehicles in 1986 to 32,000 last year. Traffic on Highway 160 increased from 17,000 to 30,000 in the same period.

The agency, short of funding, proposes a $3.3 million solution to tide it over for 10 to 15 years. Increasing capacity at the intersection now would cost $8 to $9 million.

The answer lies in a continuous-flow intersection, CDOT says. The project calls for a 500-foot to 600-foot turn lane on Highway 550 for northbound motorists who want to turn west onto Highway 160.

Synchronized stoplights on Highway 550 and at the intersection would keep traffic moving and tie up motorists for less time than they spend stopped now.

“But you can’t fix the intersection congestion without addressing the College Drive and Seventh Street issues,” Humphrey said.

The Camino del Rio-College Drive intersection also will be widened slightly and restriped.

A median on Camino del Rio between Seventh and Eighth streets would give pedestrians a refuge, but it also would prevent motorists southbound on Camino del Rio from turning left to go downtown.

Pedestrians would activate a light to cross to the median and then punch a second button to cross the other half of Camino del Rio.

The double action would allow vehicles to pass on the side not occupied by pedestrians.

Nothing has been finalized, Humphrey said.

The entryway to Durango deserves a classier look than an extended turn lane provides, the man who mentioned the roundabout said.

A pair of bicycle backers said cyclists should have equal ability as motorists to proceed north along Highway 550 or turn left onto Highway 160.

Another project, one not mentioned Wednesday, would install a median on Highway 160 to make it impossible for motorists to make a left onto Highway 160 from Roosa Avenue.

Humphrey said CDOT has looked at solutions that have worked elsewhere. But engineers are wary of ones that the public won’t accept or use, he said.

“But we’ll look at anything,” he said at the end of the open house.

daler@durangoherald.com