The Montezuma County commission voted 3-0 Monday to oppose a controversial proposal by the Colorado Department of Transportation to restrict the County Road BB intersection with U.S. 491.
But while the commission sided with Pleasant View residents against the right-in, right-out plan, CDOT has the final say because it is state jurisdiction.
“It is a CDOT decision, not the county’s,” said commissioner James Lambert.
CDOT’s southwest district made the intersection a priority for safety improvements because of limited sight distance from a hill and a history of accidents.
According to CDOT crash statistics obtained by The Journal through a Colorado Open Records Act request, there were nine accidents on U.S. 491 at or near the Road BB intersection from 1996 through 2015. Of those, five were reported as intersection-related. Two of the five caused injuries, and three caused property damage only. A fatal 2012 crash near the Road BB intersection is listed as “non-intersection.”
For more than a year, Pleasant View residents have voiced their opposition to an intersection change, and many have argued that it isn’t to blame for an unusually large number of accidents. Residents have argued that the intersection is a crucial thoroughfare for farms and ranches and that redirecting traffic to Road CC past the Pleasant View School would cause a safety concern.
In January, commissioners rejected a CDOT offer to pay the county $630,000 for nearby county road improvements if the commission decided to close the Road BB/491 intersection.
On Monday, during the commission’s sixth public meeting on the matter, opponents again showed up in force and urged CDOT to find an alternative to the right-in, right-out proposal. Opponents submitted a petition of 90 signatures against the intersection change.
Everything except the right-in, right-out plan should be implemented to try and improve safety there, the community and county said. Traffic mitigation ideas included lighted warning signs, left turn lanes, lower speed limits and rumble strips.
Jan Senhen noted that the CDOT plan would force farm and ranch trucks from Road BB to head south on the highway, then turn around to head north, causing another safety issue.
Lowell Book said a left turn ban onto Road BB could cause problems because some drivers would go past and make a risky U-turn on the highway to make the right-in turn.
“Dropping the speed limit to 50 mph through that entire stretch would help,” he said. “Right now, it is 50, then 65, then 50 again.”
Opponents said they have noticed other stretches of local highways with large lighted signs warning of dangerous intersections.
“Why not try that here? Big ones with flashing lights will make a difference,” said Gayel Alexander, a rancher who depends on Road BB access. “This change would add 7 to 10 miles onto my trucking route.”
Joe Bartolino said the change would force him to travel Road 15, which should be paved in fairness to residents. Merle Root expressed concern about timely emergency vehicle access to the neighborhood with a restricted intersection. Haley Mahaffey said less convenient access to properties would hurt property values. Resident Bessie White said redirecting wide farm equipment and semitrailers of hay, wheat and beans to Road CC, which is also used by oil and gas trucks, would increase dangers there.
During a phone conference with the commissioners March 3, CDOT hinted it might walk away from its preferred plan, at least temporarily, if the commissioners were against the plan, and put it in writing.
At the March 17 hearing, CDOT engineer Kevin Curry said the agency seeks county cooperation, but agreement is not always possible.
“We will not be like a kid and say ‘I’m taking my ball and leaving,’” he said. “We’ve been through three public meetings, and this is the best viable option for this intersection.”
After more than one hour of testimony, commissioner Larry Don Suckla made a motion to oppose the right-in, right-out solution, and it passed.
“This would be a burden to our constituents, and I believe if you stand up for your constituents, you can never go wrong,” he said.
“We’ll be in touch,” said CDOT’s Curry.