Bailey-area residents finally got the opportunity to speak directly to decision-makers at the Colorado Department of Transportation via a Zoom meeting Jan. 23.
About 50 residents attended the meeting in person at Platte Canyon High School, where members of the SAFE-285 Committee and others communicated their concerns about CDOT’s plans to remove the traffic light at the intersection of U.S. Highway 285 and Park County Road 43A.
Park County Commissioner Amy Mitchell, Tim Gregg of the Platte Canyon Area Chamber of Commerce and Robin Davis of Fire Adapted Bailey each made presentations in opposition of CDOT’s plans to remove the traffic light. An additional 100 local residents tuned in electronically in real time.
After hearing opening remarks from SAFE-285 Committee Chair Mark Linné, CDOT Region 2 Transportation Director Richard Zamora stated that the reason the traffic light in question would be removed was purely for safety reasons.
Zamora said 83 crashes have been reported in the vicinity of the U.S. Highway 285-CR 43A intersection between 2014 and 2020, and there were 43 injuries as a result of those crashes. Fortunately, according to Zamora, there were no fatalities reported in those accidents.
Linné, however, argued that many of the accidents were caused by weather or wildlife, and that no definitive evidence had been presented by CDOT to link the light itself to the accidents that have occurred.
Linné expressed his belief that the primary objective for CDOT was actually to keep traffic moving and to eliminate the need for Denver and Front Range-area residents to have to stop at the “pesky light” while en route to or from their travels to the mountains.
Following the meeting, Linné stated: “I believe that CDOT is not being completely truthful when they say the reason for the light’s removal is based purely on safety. I think it the light is often the subject of complaints from Denver-based travelers, and that it’s really more the result of pressure being applied from Front Range residents. To say this is about safety is really a bit of a stretch.”
Gregg argued that CDOT’s proposal was inadequate and that simply lowering speed limits on U.S. Highway 285 in and around Bailey would be a more viable first step in reducing accidents.
Davis of Fire Adapted Bailey made the case that the 285-CR 43A intersection accommodates large volumes of traffic daily, and that residents attempting to evacuate in the event of a wildfire would be severely hampered if the traffic light in question were removed.
Mitchell, who was recently elected to the Park County Board of County Commissioners for District 1, argued that the overall quality of life for Bailey-area residents would be negatively impacted by CDOT’s plans as they are currently presented, and that many local businesses would be rendered less visible and less accessible due to the removal of the traffic signal.
Mitchell added that citizens and business owners in the vicinity made decisions based upon the traffic light being there.
“We need to find an alternative solution,” Mitchell said. “A timed or flashing light, or a smart light might be a viable option. But we need to put the brakes on this project to ensure that we make U.S. Highway 285 safer and more accessible for our local citizens.”
During a post-meeting interview, Mitchell proposed yet another potential solution.
“There are several other options out there that we would like CDOT to consider,” Mitchell said. “One of those options would be to leave the light up, but to turn it off. If unintended consequences occurred as a result of the light being off, then it could simply be turned back on. So we plan to keep the dialogue open with the folks at CDOT.”
Linné questioned the timing of the project and asked CDOT officials if the $1.3 million in funding for the project had to be spent by a specific date. CDOT officials responded that the funding was secured and that there was no “expiration date” with regards to funding.
As the meeting neared its conclusion, an audience member asked if CDOT had hired contractors for the project, and if the project had been put up for bid as of yet. CDOT officials stated that the project had not yet been advertised to potential contractors, but that it would be within the next couple of weeks.
Following the meeting, Linné said he was pleased to hear that contractors had not yet been hired and that CDOT had not passed the point of no return in the decision-making process.
The most discouraging news, according to Linné, was related to the planned rerouting of traffic to Park County Road 72. All northbound traffic would be required to utilize CR 72 off of U.S. 285 to access CR 43A, according to CDOT’s current plan. Furthermore, all traffic from CR 43A would have to take Delwood Drive past Platte Canyon Fire District Station 2, underneath the underpass and around a cloverleaf turn to access U.S. 285 north toward Denver.
As a result of CDOT’s current plan, the windy, narrowly constructed route would host drastically larger volumes of two-way traffic on a daily basis. When asked what modifications were planned to make CR 72 a more appropriate route for increased volumes of traffic, CDOT officials stated, “There are no plans at this time.”
That response prompted sighs and sarcastic chuckles from many in attendance at PCHS.
Linné concluded the meeting with an open invitation to CDOT officials to observe the intersection during a time in which traffic is heavy.
“We invite you to come out and observe with us what a non-problem the traffic signal at CR 43-A really is, and to reevaluate plans and consider alternatives,” Linné said.