County reviews long-haul drive for Fraser Valley Parkway

The road network as it currently exists in the Fraser Valley. The Fraser Valley Parkway would be a north-south route running west of US Highway 40.
BOCC workshop

Grand County is considering whether or not it wants to continue the decades-long pursuit of a parallel route to the county’s eastern segment of US Highway 40.

In a Tuesday workshop, Grand County commissioners heard from county engineer Tim Gagnon on the Fraser Valley Parkway, also known as County Road 522. The parkway, if completed, would be a continuous north-south route running west of Highway 40 from Tabernash to Winter Park.

The concept of a parallel route to US 40 has been under county consideration since the 1980s.

“Does the Fraser Valley Parkway still make sense today in its current alignment?” Gagnon asked to set up his presentation on where the plans currently stand.

There are three general segments of the road, with the north and central sections under county jurisdiction.

The north section would be an entirely new road beginning west of Tabernash to County Road 5, essentially trimming off the part of US 40 that curves south outside Tabernash. The central section picks up from County Road 5, moves along County Road 50, and connects to County Road 721 with a new road. The south section of the parkway follows Old Victory Road to Lions Gate.

The proposed sections of the Fraser Valley Parkway are outlined in this presentation slide from the Grand County engineer. A number of these sections have not yet been built.
BOCC workshop

Some sections have been completed, others require improvements, and many parts have been designed but not built.

The topic was raised to the commissioners because of a US Army Corps of Engineers wetland permit that calls for a cultural survey on the proposed road that would be built west of Fraser, between county roads 73 and 50. The survey needs to be completed by September, according to the permit requirements.

The permit process, which was started by the county in the 2000s and took seven years to complete, was justified as a way to help with traffic congestion, safety and emergency services. In the Fraser Valley today, there is also the potential for new development in the area adding a need for additional infrastructure improvements.

Gagnon outlined a Colorado Department of Transportation study on US 40 traffic data from Rendezvous Road to County Road 5. That stretch of US 40 is currently a two-lane highway with two traffic lights seeing 14,000 to 18,000 vehicles a day.

According to CDOT, that segment of US 40 is reaching its capacity, and the study recommended expanding it to four lanes and adding four more traffic lights. The study included a preliminary analysis on the impacts of the Fraser Valley Parkway on US 40, which estimated that 20% of future highway traffic would utilize the parkway as an alternative to US 40.

On that segment from Rendezvous to County Road 5, Gagnon concluded that once Highway 40 reaches traffic volumes of 24,000 to 30,000 vehicles a day, travel times on the highway compared to a completed Fraser Valley Parkway would likely be equivalent.

“It’s not a perfect through road corridor,” Gagnon said of the parkway between Fraser and Winter Park. “… What we’re going to see here is there is a point — even with that configuration — that travel time on the parkway, as circuitous as it might be, could very easily meet the travel times of Highway 40.”

The proposed improvements from CDOT for that segment of US 40 would cost an estimated $42 million. It has not yet seen any funding.

As for the improvement costs to finish the Fraser Valley Parkway, the estimate is around $10 million dollars for the six-mile route, which includes 4.5 miles of trails. This estimate does not include the land acquisition that would be needed for the “missing link” from County Road 5 to County Road 73 or paving on Johns Drive and Old Victory Road to complete the connection to Winter Park.

This map outlines the “missing links” that would be needed to complete the Fraser Valley Parkway, including a number of roads and right of ways.
BOCC workshop

A number of unknowns remain with the proposal, including when the US 40 improvements might happen, the segments on the parkway that are out of the county’s control, and what actual traffic growth will look like.

Chris Baer, county road and bridge superintendent, pointed out that the parkway would be an ongoing investment even after it’s built.

“We need to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to not only build this but maintain it,” Baer said.

There would also be a cost to not moving forward with the proposal. For example, the East Grand Fire District noted that there’s been an increase in full highway closures between Tabernash and Fraser, making the need for an alternate north-south route all the more apparent.

As development grows around the proposed parkway location, there’s also a desire to put traffic on roads built to handle higher capacities.

“I think we’re at a point where, no matter what, growth and the traffic associated with growth has got to be dispersed somewhere,” Gagnon said.

With the wetland permit, if the county doesn’t complete the cultural survey in time and ends up wanting to do this work, the seven-year permit process would have to begin all over again.

The biggest question mark, aside from funding, demand and those missing links, is whether there will be sufficient public support to justify the investment.

“It was a little bit of a struggle to get public support 20 years ago,” Gagnon said.

Fraser’s and Winter Park’s support would also be necessary, and progress on their parts of the parkway has been notable.

With the deadline approaching, staff needs direction on whether work should continue on this long-term project or if the county should let it go. The commissioners asked for cost estimates on the cultural survey and details about next steps.

Discussions on the Fraser Valley Parkway are expected to continue at the next board of county commissioners’ meeting on April 6.

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