A preliminary proposal that would close County Road BB at U.S. Highway 491 received significant pushback from Pleasant View residents at Monday’s Montezuma County Commission meeting.
Forty residents showed up during the public comment session to express opposition to options being considered including making it a “right in, right out only” or closing the road.
Poor line of sight for vehicles turning left onto Road BB is a safety issue CDOT wants to address. They cite crash history and increased traffic as a factor for improving the intersection.
The road is a thoroughfare for local farmers and ranchers going about their business and for tourists traveling to Canyons of the Ancients, Lowry Ruins and Hovenweep National Monuments.
The problem is the intersection is at the base of a hill that limits the view of oncoming traffic. As a solution, the Colorado Department of Transportation wants to make Road BB a “right in, right only,” and it has the right of way to do it, officials said.
Residents don’t want that, so CDOT offered the county a deal: Close the road and direct traffic to Road CC, which does not have the limited sight problem. The $630,000 earmarked to make the “right in, right out only” will be allocated to the county for road improvements in the area, including chip-sealing Road 15 to get people back to BB.
County road manager Rob Englehart said CDOT has reported that widening and cutting down the hill on the highway to improve the sight distance is cost-prohibitive.
“They are looking for another answer,” he said. “Closing the road is one option, and they have put money on the table. We don’t have to do it, but they can still put in the ‘right in, right out only’ because it is their right of way.”
Pleasant View resident Merle Root says widening the road and putting in a left turn lane would improve the situation.
“They widened the road at the Sale Barn entrance farther down, and it made the intersection safer,” she said. “If you don’t have enough money, than wait until you do.”
Resident Richard Kipp said a significant drawback to closing Road BB is that traffic will be redirected to Road CC and pass the Pleasant View School.
“I think a little more signage and a lower speed limit would help the situation,” he said. “A lot of traffic depends on that road. You can never make anything foolproof.”
Parent Jennifer Lanier said redirecting traffic to Road CC by the school is a major safety concern.
“I don’t think people realize how much traffic will be coming by the school if Road BB is closed,” she said.
Rancher Gayel Alexander said closing Road BB would impact access to her corrals used by the community. If it did close, improvements would be needed to give ranchers room to turn around and get to Road 15 and on to Road CC.
Another resident said he sees tourists stopped in the highway reading a map to see if it is the road to Hovenweep National Monument.
“They are sitting ducks,” he said. “CDOT should cut the hill, and widen the road.”
Creating left turn lane onto Road BB is problematic, Englehart said. National highway requirements for line of sight at the intersection require more than the 600 feet currently there.
U.S. Highway 160 is a federal hazardous materials route, pointed out Tony Hermann, “so the federal government should help fix the problem” in a way the local people prefer. Commissioner Keenan Ertel agreed.
“If demand is great enough, CDOT can find the money, and it is our charge to find an avenue for them to locate more money for the project,” Ertel said. “If the feds want this to be a federal hazmat route, and there is a dangerous intersection, let’s fix it right. We’re not done yet.”
A solution to the Road BB intersection problem is still being worked out, and no decisions have been made, said commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
A public hearing must be held before any county road can be closed, he said.
“As a commissioner, I have not closed one road, we have fought to keep them open so the record is in your favor,” he said. “We work for you, and I guarantee you we won’t make a hasty decision and will work on this to try and come up with the best solution.”
CDOT program engineer Ed Archuleta told The Journal that cutting down the hill to improve sight distance would cost more than the $4 million allocated to address road safety issues in the 15 counties of Region 5.
“Such a large excavation is not cost effective. It’s an unsafe intersection and as traffic continues to increase, odds are accidents will increase,” he said. “We have an obligation to address it.”
Sight distance at the intersection is also inadequate for southbound traffic on the highway, Archuleta added. Of about 100 intersections in Region 5, the U.S. 491-Road BB intersection is one of the top six intersections proposed for improvements, and crash history was a key factor. CDOT’s road budget is derived from fuel taxes that do not keep up with road needs, CDOT officials said.
Another proposal by CDOT, according to the county, is to make County Road 16, where it meets U.S. 491 “a right in, right out only.”