Durango’s vision of a big-box shopping corridor near Mercy Regional Medical Center edged closer to reality on Thursday with the announcement of a $4.3 million state grant for the extension of Wilson Gulch Road.
The road would connect to a future roundabout for an interchange with U.S. Highway 550 across U.S. Highway 160. Wilson Gulch would be extended by 3,550 feet to the west from a Durango Police Department substation.
Because the interchange bridge currently lacks for connector roads, many people now refer to it as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”
The bridge is part of a future realignment of U.S. Highway 550 that eventually would bring traffic down from Florida Mesa to within eyeshot of this planned commercial corridor.
Motorists then would have the opportunity to exit the highway for stylish home accessories before continuing on to their homes in Durango or Bayfield.
The current Farmington Hill interchange at U.S. Highway 550/160 is so far removed from the planned big-box corridor at Wilson Gulch Road that, without the realignment, unsuspecting motorists might never know about the shopping opportunities up the road.
“Right now, at the traffic signal (at 550/160), you would have no idea retail is over there,” Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc told The Herald during a recent tour of the area.
“(But) if I’m on 550 and come on this bridge, there’s Target and the supermarket,” LeBlanc said.
As the puzzle pieces to the highway realignment begin to fall into place, city officials hope Durango moves up on the priority list for big-box development.
“The retailers want to come here, (but) they have other opportunities. So the more certain we can answer their questions, the higher we get up on their list to build next,” LeBlanc said.
Durango estimates that it loses about $40 million a year in sales tax because so many local shoppers are going to Farmington, which has a Target as well as a Sam’s Club and a Hobby Lobby.
The realignment of Highway 550 also has public safety implications because it would provide an alternate route to the hospital.
So if the intersection for Highway 160 and Three Springs Boulevard is blocked by an accident or spill, an ambulance coming from Durango could get on the ramp for Highway 550 and take Wilson Gulch Road to the hospital.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office on Thursday announced the Wilson Gulch Road grant as part of a $580 million package of 44 Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships, or RAMP, grants for Colorado.
With a local match of $2.1 million, the total project is estimated to cost $6.4 million.
In another development related to the Highway 550 realignment, LeBlanc said the Wilson Gulch Road private developer, the Growth Fund of the Southern Ute Tribe, has proposed a new highway route up Farmington Hill that would satisfy private property owners in the area, such as Eagle Block and Webb Ranch, who don’t want their properties divided by the highway.
It was presented to the Colorado Department of Transportation to expedite the planning process.
In other transportation news not related to Wilson Gulch Road, CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said construction on a redesign for the intersection of U.S. Highway 550/160 at Camino del Rio near the DoubleTree Hotel has been postponed until spring.