Fraser Valley Parkway’s path unclear as county moves forward with cultural survey
Grand County commissioners have approved beginning the second phase of the cultural survey on the Fraser Valley Parkway, but no decision has yet been made on the future of the road.
Also known as County Road 522, this parallel route to US Highway 40 has been decades in the making. It required a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is set to expire Sept. 1 if the county does not complete a cultural survey.
According to county engineer Tim Gagnon, the next phase of the cultural survey would cost $4,000 to $6,000 and would be the last piece needed to meet the deadline for the wetlands permit.
While the commissioners did approve moving forward with this phase, the future of County Road 522 is yet to be determined.
The parallel route to US Highway 40 envisioned over 20 years ago continues to see strong opposition from many nearby residents — but a number of entities on the eastern side of the county have expressed a strong desire for it.
On Tuesday, commissioners and staff tried to address a number of misconceptions about the Fraser Valley Parkway, starting with the fact that it wouldn’t be much of a parkway.
“Parkways are generally these wide beautiful expanses that wander through neighborhoods,” Commissioner Merrit Linke said. “What we are proposing here is a two-lane gravel road.”
While CR 522 is envisioned as a parallel route to Highway 40, it’s not meant to solve the traffic congestion on that thoroughfare or act as an alternative route.
“(CR 552’s) main purpose has always been to create a relief for local traffic,” Gagnon said.
Reviewing the long history of the proposed route, Gagnon emphasized that master plans going back to the ‘80s and ‘90s indicated the need for some form of parallel route to the highway.
A number of alternatives aside from CR 522 have been proposed, but Gagnon referenced previous work that discounted those options. County Road 5, for example, had a 1985 study that even then suggested an additional parallel route would still be needed, while another study found that County Road 731 would be too winding to be an efficient alternative.
As for US 40, the county did not discount the needed work on that road. A recent study by CDOT recommended widening the highway to four lanes up to County Road 5, but that doesn’t mean CR 522 wouldn’t still be needed.
“The Fraser Valley Parkway does not alleviate the needs for improvements on Highway 40, but in turn the improvements on Highway 40 don’t alleviate the needs for improvements on the Fraser Valley Parkway,” Gagnon said.
Multiple questions were raised about what the county was doing to address Highway 40 concerns, but jurisdiction on that highway belongs to CDOT. The county has focused lobbying efforts with CDOT to safety improvements on Red Dirt Hill.
“There’s a finite dollar amount and we’re competing against Colorado Springs,” Commissioner Kris Manguso said of CDOT funding. “We’re competing against I-25 and Denver. We’re competing against Weld County. We’re competing against I-70 and people that can’t get up to go skiing through the tunnel. It’s hard for us to get any of this money.”
The county engineer emphasized that traffic congestion on the highway wasn’t the main driver for CR 522. Instead, it’s the developments in the area bringing the need to provide more efficient and suitable routes for new neighborhoods that would allow local drivers to avoid getting on the highway at all.
Gagnon explained from a traffic planning perspective that the number of expected and existing developments will increase traffic in that area regardless of the Fraser Valley Parkway.
“I think it’s important to note that without this we could be pushing traffic into numerous different residential neighborhoods that have roads that aren’t designed for this sort of traffic,” Gagnon said.
There were also questions about the county funding a road meant to serve new developments. Gagnon explained that Grand never planned to take on the entire cost burden of this route; instead the intention was to spearhead a unified vision of CR 522 that developers would contribute to.
Neighbors in that area expressed worry that building the Fraser Valley Parkway would make it a diverter road, bringing what otherwise would have been highway traffic through the area. They pushed for a control of growth instead.
“Unless we put a gate at the top of Berthoud Pass, we’re growing,” County Manager Ed Moyer said. “We can’t control the traffic.”
With these considerations in mind, commissioners repeated that this additional step on the cultural survey does not guarantee that the county will move forward with CR 522. The survey will include field work to see what remains of the German POW camp that once stood in the path of the proposed route.
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