Q & A on the Grand Avenue Access Control Plan; the Project Team Responds

Last month I sent a series of questions regarding the Access Control Plan to various groups including the City, Stolfus and Associates, and CDOT. My questions were circulated to the Project Team and last Thursday, I received their response. What follows is my questions (in bold), followed by the response as sent to me by Michelle Hansen, a Professional Engineer with Stolfus and Associates. My thanks to Stolfus, CDOT and the City for getting this information to me. Perhaps if there are other questions entered into the comments area, they will respond. I apologize for the formatting of this. Like I said before, you get what you pay for and this blog hosting site is free!

What is the difference/benefit (Pros & Cons?) of entering into an IGA with CDOT in an ACP as opposed to simply going with the current standard access code?

Access is currently controlled on the State Highway System via the State Highway Access Code. By law, CDOT must enforce the requirements of the State Highway Access Code. CDOT applies the Code on an individual first-come/first-serve basis as properties develop and redevelop. The standards and criteria of the Code must be applied as defined with limited flexibility for adjustment. With the Code, CDOT staff cannot consider adjacent land use, future access to adjacent properties, or corridor-wide impacts. The benefits of entering into an IGA with CDOT in an ACP include:
• The City has an opportunity to partner with CDOT to define future access conditions on SH 82 that balance both State and Local objectives. The ACP allows the City to participate in making decisions about access that are more consistent with the City’s vision, land use, and local transportation system rather than having access defined solely by the standards and criteria of the State Highway Access Code.
• The ACP addresses access on a corridor-wide basis rather than an individual, first-come/first-serve basis. An ACP considers how adjacent access points impact each other and defines how access to adjacent properties can be achieved as redevelopment occurs. Adopting the ACP provides the City with the tools to incorporate potential and anticipated future development as it relates to access and provides property owners with security in the planned access for their properties.
• In some instances, the recommendations of the ACP allow closer access spacing and a higher level of access than the criteria of the State Highway Access Code where technical analyses can demonstrate adequate safety and operations. Additionally, the recommendations considered adjacent land use, corridor specific conditions, and City goals for future improvements which are specifically not considerations of the State Highway Access Code.
• Adopting an ACP is the first step necessary for implementing traffic calming and streetscaping improvements on SH 82. These types of improvements have been recommended in multiple previous studies conducted by the City. Specifically, this is the first step towards implementing raised landscaped medians along Grand Avenue. The ACP process ensures that the State and City have provided legal access for adjacent properties and facilitates the public process for any proposed access modifications.
A potential downside of adopting the Access Control Plan is that the ACP recommendations reflect today’s point of view about future conditions. As time goes by, not all of the assumptions of the ACP will ring true. While the ACP provides for future modification to resolve those issues as they arise, the City will likely need to expend public funds to make the necessary changes.

I understand that an ACP is put in place to promote safety and efficiency along a section of highway. In what ways, specifically, does this ACP address pedestrian and bicycle safety and promote multi-modal transportation uses?

An ACP specifically addresses vehicular access to the State Highway System. However, per the State Highway Access Code, ACP’s shall not preclude the current or future accommodation for other transportation modes. Supporting alternative modes is a goal of the project and the Draft ACP supports this goal in the following ways:
• A pedestrian and/or cyclist must cross every driveway on the highway that crosses the sidewalk and/or bicycle lane. Consolidating, reducing, and defining access points reduces the number of conflict points and the associated crash risk between vehicles and pedestrians and/or cyclists.
• The plan is the first step toward implementing traffic calming measures that will make the downtown area more pedestrian friendly. This may include the addition of raised, landscaped medians and the opportunity for wider sidewalks and/or separation between sidewalks and traffic lanes.
• The Draft Plan separates the highest pedestrian movement in the corridor at 8th Street from vehicular traffic providing a safe, free-flowing pedestrian underpass beneath the proposed Grand Avenue Bridge within a couple hundred feet of the 8th Street intersection.
• By placing a full signal at 9th Street, the draft plan also encourages pedestrians to walk from 8th Street to 9th Street, improving the economic viability of businesses in this block.
• By removing the need for left-turn movements at 8th Street, the proposed Grand Avenue Bridge width can be minimized, allowing for a 10’ shared use path connection between the pedestrian bridge and 8th Street, eliminating the need for a scissor structure (a switchback type ramp structure that provides a connection between the pedestrian bridge and the street level and allows the pedestrian/cyclist to exit the structure approximately above or below where they started) or elevator at 7th Street.
• The Draft Plan is consistent with the existing Safe Routes to School route at 9th Street which calls for student crossing of Grand Avenue (SH 82) at 9th Street.
• The Draft Plan provides a consistent spacing between pedestrian crossings in the downtown area rather than creating long segments without pedestrian crossings.
• A pedestrian–only signal is maintained at 15th Street to address the currently warranted pedestrian crossing driven by the movement of high school students.
• The proposed realignment of S. Grand Avenue (at 23rd) will improve the sight lines for all users and will thereby improve safety including safety of the RFTA trail crossing that currently crosses S. Grand at a significant skew.

What type (classification) of Highway is SH 82 through Glenwood – and where can I find the Access code associated with that classification.

SH 82 from I-70 to the Glenwood Springs south city limits is classified as Non-Rural Arterial (Category NR-B). SH 82 beyond the City limits (approximately where the median barrier begins) towards Orrison is classified as an Expressway (Category EX). The State Highway Access Code describes each category and associated requirements. The State Highway Access Code, as well as other access related references, can be found on the CDOT website at: http://www.coloradodot.info/business/permits/accesspermits/references.

The ACP is based on projections for 2032 (I believe – going from memory). When were those projections done and how were they calculated. Given the current downturn in the economy, could those projections be overstated?

The projections for the project are based on a 20-year planning period (2032). Traffic counts were conducted in March 2012 for this project. Seasonal variations in traffic volumes were accounted for and the March counts were adjusted to reflect conditions typically experienced in August, the second highest volume month of the year. Future projected traffic volumes account for background growth (growth anticipated over time) and traffic generated from known planned developments. A background growth rate of 2.0% was used for the Access Control Plan. This growth rate was developed by considering both recent history and a 20-year view of historic trends. The rate is also consistent with other recent plans, including the Corridor Optimization Plan, the South Bridge EA, and the Grand Avenue Bridge EA. The background growth rate of 2.0% was applied to the seasonally adjusted March 2012 traffic counts to project traffic volumes.

Traffic engineering is not an exact science and uses available data to make educated forecasts about future conditions. Any traffic projection risks overstating or understating future traffic volumes due to unknown future conditions; however, even if it takes longer than 20 years to realize the projected growth of traffic volumes, we anticipate that similar growth will be realized over time. Again, an ACP maps out changes that can be implemented when growth does happen.

Are there currently any plans by the City or CDOT to install medians along any portion of Grand Avenue?

CDOT does not currently have any plans to install medians on Grand Avenue except any median that would be included as part of the Grand Avenue Bridge project (not expected to extend past 8th Street).

The City has several planning documents that recommend installing medians on Grand Avenue including the Comprehensive Plan, Grand Avenue Traffic Calming Plan (Dan Burden Plan), and the City Downtown Plan. The Access Control Plan is the first step toward implementation of medians. The City has budgeted funds to develop preliminary plans for medians within the downtown area. This project has not been initiated yet. No funding is currently identified for construction of any medians along any portion of Grand Avenue.

Does this plan include any elements of the “Dan Burden Plan” and if so, what?

The Draft Access Plan incorporates many of the elements recommended in the Grand Avenue Traffic Calming Plan or “Dan Burden Plan” including:
• Setting the stage for installing raised medians on Grand Avenue. The Access Plan is the first step to planning for raised medians along Grand Avenue.
• Eliminating left turns on 8th and 10th. (Note: The “Dan Burden Plan” does not specifically recommend removing the traffic signals at these intersections. That recommendation was developed from the ACP.)
• Moving the 15th Street signal to Hyland Park Drive.
• Realigning Hyland Park Drive with Park Drive.
• The Access Plan does not specify what type of traffic control is required at full movement intersections. However, roundabouts are an acceptable form of traffic control at full movement intersections. The “Dan Burden Plan” recommends roundabouts at 23rd and 27th. Both of these intersections are identified as full movement intersections in the Draft Access Plan; therefore, roundabouts could be implemented in the future as long as the roundabout operates at an acceptable Level of Service and there is enough space to construct a roundabout that can accommodate the design vehicle for the highway.

A stated goal of the Glenwood Springs “Glenwood Spring Transportation Plan 2003-2030” is “To provide and efficient network of streets and bridges that provide safe and convenient access for autos, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians. Streets must be well maintained and function according to street classifications.” Specifically, how does the ACP further this goal?

Focusing solely on the City’s street classifications, Grand Avenue and Glen Avenue are classified as prinicipal arterials. As defined by the City’s Street Standards, “Principal Arterials provide for mobility through the City and for connecting the major centers of activity within the City. Although principal arterials may provide access to commercial and residential properties where no other alternative is available, access is a secondary function.” The ACP ensures that each property adjacent to Grand/Glen has access either directly or via the local street system. In addition, the ACP locates major intersections to provide efficient traffic flow which will preserve capacity on Grand/Glen as traffic volumes increase. This will result in reduced delay and travel times which will encourage through traffic to stay on the Grand/Glen rather than diverting to the local street system. Consolidating access and minimizing locations where vehicles merge, split, or cross also reduces conflict points and potential crash risk.

Has any kind of an economic impact study been conducted? I know there are several studies out there. Are there any that have been done by independent sources – other than by or for a Department of Transportation. The reason I ask is an explicitly stated distrust of studies done by government.

No, an economic impact study has not been conducted as part of the Access Plan study process. The implementation of an Access Control Plan is largely dependent on redevelopment of properties and businesses, so an economic impact study based on today’s businesses does not provide specifically applicable data. However, the DDA has contracted with a group of consultants to evaluate the different intersection configurations between 8th and 10th. This group includes an economic consultant.

There has been talk of requiring an EIS. Will this project (ACP) trigger an EA and/or and EIS?

No, an Access Control Plan will not trigger and EA or an EIS. An Access Control Plan is a planning document and does not have specific construction projects defined. The plan itself will be implemented in phases as things change. Each construction project that is developed over time, whether private or public, will be required to obtain an environmental clearance prior to construction. At that time, the level of environmental clearance required will be defined. Implementation of a portion of an Access Control Plan generally does not require modifying the alignment or capacity of the highway and is accomplished in small phases. Generally, implementation of a portion of an Access Control Plan meets the requirements for a Categorical Exclusion and does not require an EA or EIS.

The intersections at 23rd and 27th are the most probable to see some changes – based on what I understand. If, for example, 23rd Street intersection is reconfigured, how far does that trigger the implementation of the ACP? Down to Safeway? Up to 27th? Or is it limited to only the immediate intersection?

The limits of a construction project at 23rd are difficult to define at this point. Depending on the timing and funding, the limits of the project could be limited to the immediate intersection or could extend farther. These are the elements that will be considered in defining the limits of the project:
• The length required to physically tie-in the realigned intersection with SH 82.
• Operational or safety issues occurring adjacent to or near the intersection at the time of construction
• Funding available to complete improvements
• Other public or private projects in the area that can be combined

Have things like grade differences been considered when determining shared access? If it has not been considered now, will it be considered at the time of implementation?

Yes, grade differences have been considered when determining shared access and will also need to be considered as part of the development plans at the time of implementation. Shared access will be implemented with redevelopment. We have considered the feasibility of addressing existing grade differences within a redevelopment project. It is reasonable that within a redevelopment project, grade adjustments within 1 or 2 feet can be achieved. For example, there is an existing grade difference between the Jimmy’s 66 and Cyber Salon and Day Spa. When the Cyber Salon and Day Spa redevelops (increases traffic by more than 20%), grades would need to be adjusted at the shared driveway location and the grades of the new driveway would be very similar to the existing driveway.

What are the reasons that the City has not undertaken a traffic circulation study, particularly for the downtown area in light of the bridge, ACP, library and parking structure?

The City plans to conduct a traffic circulation study downtown following completion of the Access Plan study and the parking study currently in process. The City has selected to complete the circulation study following these other studies to minimize study overlap, reduce confusion, and focus study efforts efficiently based on recommendations from the other studies as they relate to and potentially influence circulation needs and desires. Since the City’s downtown street system is a grid system, it provides one of the most flexible circulation configurations possible for city street networks.

For shared access, would a reciprocal easement or access agreement be necessary? If so, have those agreements typically addressed liability and indemnification? If not, how are those issues addressed?

Yes, for shared access, a legal access agreement or easement would be required. Liability and indemnification would need to be addressed specifically in the easement agreement prepared by the property owner’s attorney. The City and CDOT would not participate in the specifics of the easement, but would make development approval conditional upon providing one.

Does the City currently have any plans to extend Blake to Wal-Mart? If this were done, what improvements would be necessary on Blake from 23rd Street South?

The City does not currently have plans to extend Blake to Wal-Mart. This connection was identified as a potential improvement for the purposes of local circulation. The adoption of the Access Control Plan only applies to the access points directly to the highway and does not obligate the City to improve any local circulation routes shown including Blake, 8th Street connection, 14th Street connection, or South Bridge.

If Blake was extended to Wal-Mart for public traffic, roadway improvements would be required and would likely include improving the cross-section to one of the City’s standard street sections, as well as improving the condition of the driving surface itself.

Could the redevelopment of one parcel or business trigger the redevelopment for an entire block or group of businesses?

Under the both the State Highway Access Code and the ACP, depending on the size and extent of a redevelopment, the level of access could be restricted for multiple properties or businesses with the redevelopment of one parcel or business. For example, if a large redevelopment project is initiated and the City requires the developer to install medians along a portion of Grand Avenue or Glen Avenue, the construction of medians could restrict other driveways within that segment to right-in/right-out.

In contrast, the relocation, consolidation, and shared access conditions in the plan would not be triggered for other parcels adjacent to a property redevelopment unless the property owner participated willingly. Relocation, consolidation and shared access will be implemented based on individual redevelopments. Shared access is generally accomplished through multiple iterations since the timing of redevelopment for two properties side by side do not generally occur simultaneously. For example, if the plan indicates a shared access between property A and property B, and property A redevelops first, property A will be required to construct their new access adjacent to the property line and provide an access easement for property B. When property B redevelops several years later, property B will construct a shared access or connect to the existing access at property A and provide an access easement for property A.

Chris McGovern states that 10 small businesses went out of business due to the recent Grand Avenue Paving Project (GAPP) project. Is there any way to verify or refute this? Is there any ongoing information/studies related to business in Glenwood Springs and why they succeed or don’t. If they go out of business does anyone follow up to see what are the reasons?

It is difficult to directly associate the success or failure of a business to a single factor or event. Numerous factors other than construction or access can impact a business’ revenues, including, but not limited to, internal management and operations, external local and global economic factors, competition, and technology/industry related changes. Studies have shown that certain businesses experience increased revenues as a result of construction spending during a project. Given the numerous factors that contribute to a business’ success or failure and the variation in effects businesses experience during construction, there is no way to specifically link the failure of an individual business to a single factor or, in this case, a single project.

3 comments on “Q & A on the Grand Avenue Access Control Plan; the Project Team Responds

  1. As a former federal employee with many years of NEPA experience, it is easy to see that the federal agency’s consultant is misleading you into thinking that it is legal to consider this project as many different pieces that, considered individually, are not “significant” and, therefore, can be covered by an “categorical exclusion” which does not require an Environmental Assessment (EA) nor the public involvement and scrutiny required for it.

    I forget the exact case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but they said that, no, a federal agency may not chop up a federal project into little pieces and try to pass off each one as “insignificant” when it is the cumulative impact that needs to be considered.

    http://www.nplnews.com/toolbox/nepakit/nepacases.htm

    At the very least, ask the consultant and/or agency NEPA person where, in the federal regulations at 40 CFR 1500 concerning “cumulative” impact, it is permitted to break up a project into little pieces in order to avoid the public involvement that is required under NEPA.

    Answer: It is not allowed. They are pulling a fast one on you.

    • ktrauger says:

      Thank you Stephen. I will make sure CDOT and the consultant see your comment and are given the opportunity to respond. I will also do some additional research. I am interested to know a little more about your background. In what capacity was your NEPA experience? Are you specifically familiar with Glenwood Springs?

    • ktrauger says:

      I did a bit of research and asked some questions, based on your comment. You have raised some excellent questions. Just a point of clarification; the Grand Avenue Bridge project is being funded through the Colorado Bridge Enterprise Fund – which I believe has federal funding. The bridge project will go through an EA/EIS process.

      The Access Control Plan, which is what the ACP team representative was referencing in the “Categorical Exclusion” is an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). Because the ACP does not generate engineered plans for construction, no federal dollars were used.

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