During a public hearing Monday, the three Montezuma County commissioners voted unanimously to keep it open, triggering applause from about 40 Pleasant View residents.
But because it is within a Colorado Department of Transportation right of way, CDOT can still move forward with plans to make it into a right-in, right-out intersection, also heavily opposed by locals.
“There are more options out there,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “We don’t have to do what CDOT is telling us to do, and need more time to make a wise decision.”
He said one option is to schedule a hearing with CDOT officials in Denver to propose alternatives supported by locals, such as creating a left-hand turn lane, widening the highway, lowering the highway speed limit and adding signs warning of the intersection.
In four public meetings on the matter, “Nobody has said they want the intersection closed or changed,” said Richard Kipp, of Pleasant View. “Listen to the people. It is not the best intersection out there, but nothing is foolproof, so let’s try alternatives to correct the problem.”
Pleasant View residents and CDOT have been at an impasse on how to improve the intersection at U.S. 491 and County Road BB.
CDOT’s preliminary plan is build a restrictive right-in, right-out intersection to prevent left turns onto County Road BB and the busy highway.
The intersection is at the bottom of a hill, and visibility of oncoming highway traffic falls short of federal standards. It is rated as one of the top six intersections that need safety improvements in Region 5, which covers 15 counties in Southwest Colorado.
CDOT wants to redirect traffic to County Road CC for travelers heading west off the highway to the Pleasant View community and on to farms, oil and gas fields, and nearby national monuments. Road CC intersects with U.S. 491 a mile north of Road BB, and has favorable sight distance.
“The BB intersection has been vetted as a priority and is in need of safety improvement, and we’re obligated to do something about it for the safety of the traveling public,” CDOT program manager Ed Archuleta, said Wednesday during a packed meeting at the Pleasant View School.
But locals are heavily opposed to any major change to the Road BB intersection because it is considered a key access point for residents, farmers and ranchers.
They say improved safety signage, a left turn lane and lower speed limit would mitigate the danger. Also, concern was expressed that redirecting traffic to Road CC would send it all by the Pleasant View school, causing a safety hazard.
Residents hotly contested CDOT’s claims that the Road BB intersection contributes to a lot of accidents.
“How many were actually caused by the intersection?” asked one resident.
“Moving access to Road CC, there will still be accidents,” said another. “You can’t fix stupid.”
Resident Merle Root said restricting or closing the intersection “will hurt local residents.” She has lived at the intersection for 30 years and has seen animals cause more accidents than the problematic intersection.
Traffic expected to increaseCDOT records show nine crashes at the intersection, including one fatality, since 1996. Five of the nine are listed as intersection-related.
Highway traffic continues to increase, Archuleta said, making accidents there more likely in the future. In 2015, there were 4,300 annual daily traffic counts on U.S. 491, compared with 3,900 in 2012. He said cutting down the highway hill at the Road BB intersection to improve sight distance would be cost-prohibitive.
“It would cost at least $4 million, which is the entire budget for road safety improvements for 15 counties,” he said. “The transportation budget is limited.”
“The simple solution would be to drop the speed limit there from 65 mph to 45 mph,” said resident Joe Black.
CDOT offers other projectsCDOT, which controls the intersection right of way, offered the county a solution, which is also heavily resisted by the locals.
CDOT has offered the county $630,000 to close the Road BB intersection. By closing the intersection, the county could spend the money to improve Pleasant View area roads. Areas under consideration include chip-sealing sections of Roads 15, 16, CC and 10, and building a truck turnaround at Road 15.5 to serve the livestock loading chute and corrals.
“It’s a chunk of money that will benefit the community,” said county road supervisor Rob Englehart. “If the county does not close the road, we won’t get the funds, and CDOT probably puts in the right-in, right-out.”
Commissioner James Lambert said he believes CDOT will move forward with the right-in, right-out alternative if the county does not shut the road. But regarding his vote on whether to close it, he said he sent out letters to Road BB and Road CC residents asking them what they wanted.
“Whatever the majority is will be how I vote on the matter,” he said.
If the traffic is diverted down Road CC, the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District and county said they will work together to install safety fencing around the school and traffic warnings.