Traffic signals in the El Jebel area have gotten a lot of criticism in recent months. Now a developer has a proposal for one of them, before Eagle County Commissioners review the proposal next month.
David Oldham is standing at one of the intersections in El Jebel, explaining how long the lights are supposed to last. “Highway 82 westbound has turned green, for both the thru lanes and the left turn lanes,” he points across the flow of cars and trucks. “There was traffic in the left turn lanes, so the signal detection equipment picked those vehicles up, and the call was put in [for changing the lights].”
Oldham handles traffic operations for CDOT along this stretch of Highway 82. To make at least some improvements, CDOT engineers have been tweaking these lights individually. It’s unlikely the agency will be able to connect them so they can “communicate” with each other, to smooth the flow of traffic. “This corridor is not in any coordination because the signals are not spaced properly,” laments Oldham. “If they were put in a little close to each other it’d be a little more practical.”
Congestion in this area has garnered lots of complaints and prompted a midvalley planning board to vote against two development applications. Keith Ehlers is a representative for one of those two proposals, a development called The Fields Subdivision. He’s based in Grand Junction, but has spent time in the Roaring Fork Valley. Their biggest hurdle is the south side of where El Jebel Road meets Highway 82.
“We’ve done a lot of research into traffic,” said Ehlers in late January. “We know [the El El Jebel] intersection,” he laughs, “[where] thank goodness the windows are rolled up because some of the things we’re saying may not be appropriate.” Ehlers says The Fields Development Group paid for a new review of the traffic there. Engineers with SGM in Glenwood Springs found that intersection no longer meets state requirements for cars getting ready to cross or turn onto the highway. And, according to that analysis, “The intersection itself underneath the stoplights will work for up to the next five years, and then it drops below the CDOT thresholds.”
CDOT doesn’t agree that the intersection won’t be safe because of more traffic in that amount of time, but representatives do say the intersection is struggling now and may have 10 years before it needs to be overhauled. The agency and Eagle County have a rough design of what it could look like to improve the intersection, but it’s estimated to cost millions of dollars. Any new development in that area, like The Fields Subdivision, would automatically trigger that big fix.
“And at a price tag of $3.5 million, it’s quite challenging,” continued Ehlers. That would make the intersection working well for twenty years. Ehlers says, flat out, project executive can’t afford that. The subdivision is supposed to have ninety-eight homes considered attainable for the middle class and affordable housing. Twenty-five percent would be deed restricted, and the remaining priced at $400,000 - $600,000.
Ehlers contends that paying millions of dollars to fix the intersection would drive up those prices.
“If we were proposing a hundred lots, for easy numbers, and you had a $3.5 million cost, you just added a $35,000 dollar cost to the lots before you do anything else.” When asked why homeowners should cover that, instead of the developer, he maintains “there isn’t that much margin. Especially on a per lot basis… if we were selling each lot at $2 million and we’ve got this great extravagant home... there’s more margins in that.” So the Fields proposal has changed to include the following fix: throw down $800,000 - $900,000 and do the first phase of the proposed plan for the south side of the El Jebel intersection. That would cover the first fifteen years of the required twenty year fix.
But the modification is going to be a hard sell for Eagle County Commissioners in March, when they review the entire development proposal. In addition to local officials recommending against the overall building plan because of traffic concerns, county planners say having all the money for that full twenty year, $3.5 million fix is the only way commissioners should approve it.
Plus there’s this factor. Dan Roussin handles the kinds of CDOT permits the Fields needs to build those nearly one hundred homes. He says a fifteen year fix doesn’t cut it. “You need to understand our access decisions are based on state law...And the state regulations say it has to work for 20 years.”
Roussin says the best approach would be for The Fields Development Group to rally RFTA, The Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District and others to help raise the full amount needed to fix the whole south side of the intersection. The development proposal goes before Eagle County Commissioners on March 15th. It no longer includes adding a traffic signal at JW Drive/Valley Road and Highway 82.