Local officials hope to complete U.S. 34 study sooner, better position themselves for highway fixes
February 15, 2017
The U.S. 34 Coalition will meet next at 9:30 a.m. March 2 at the Colorado Department of Transportation building, 10601 10th St. in Greeley.
Election of officers — Greeley Mayor Tom Norton was selected as chairman for the U.S. 34 Coalition in early February. Norton will be the coalition’s second chairman, taking the place of inaugural chairman, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. Larimer County Commissioner Tom Donnelly was selected as vice chairman.
With all eyes trained on Washington, D.C., local leaders along U.S. 34 want a study of the corridor that could one day host more traffic than Interstate 25 completed sooner rather than later.
"It's important because it looks like Congress and the new administration are committed to doing a major infrastructure bill this year," said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. "Having the (study) done sooner puts us in position to compete sooner for new federal and state funding, which means we may be able to get the safety improvements done years ahead of time."
It's too early to say, exactly, what those safety improvements may entail, but Weld commissioners have previously suggested everything from re-worked intersections to overpasses. The Planning and Environmental Linkage Study will cost $2.2 million and will involve Colorado Department of Transportation representatives, a third-party consultant and officials from Greeley, Evans, Windsor, Johnstown, Kersey and those from Larimer and Weld counties. The local municipalities make up the U.S. 34 Coalition, which was formed in 2015.
During a meeting Feb. 2, consultants pointed to an 18-month window to complete the study, which could eventually be used as proof of the need for infrastructure funding local officials think might come from the federal government during President Donald Trump's first term. But officials want that study done in a year or less.
“Having the (study) done sooner puts us in position to compete sooner for new federal and state funding, which means we may be able to get the safety improvements done years ahead of time.”.— Sean Conway, Weld County Commissioner
"There's no excuse for this taking more than a year," said Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, who is also a former CDOT director.
Conway agreed and cited projections from a previous study suggesting traffic on U.S. 34 in Weld County will eventually surpass traffic between Loveland and Fort Collins on I-25 as cause for urgency.
Norton has his own goals in mind, and they start and end with what city leaders have affectionately — or not — dubbed "spaghetti junction." That's the U.S. 85 and U.S. 34 junction in southeast Greeley. Norton foresees a fix "with all that money that will be coming from Washington."
Conway said one reason the study may be doable on a sped-up timeline is the fact Weld leaders have already done a bit of work on the topic. Namely, the county already has an access plan for U.S. 34, which basically says how many access points (intersections) will be allowed.
"The more accesses you allow, the more safety issues," Conway said. "If you limit (access points), you limit the need for controlled intersections."
But the existing intersections will still likely need to be improved in the future. Those include Weld County Road 17, near Iron Mountain Auto. If projections come true by 2040, a stoplight will no longer be sufficient.
Conway chuckled when asked about the pre-planning process, and whether Weld County would be hurt in its bid for infrastructure money because it hasn't yet reached the traffic count necessary to trigger significant safety issues. He agreed that most infrastructure projects come about long after a need is established.
"We want to be ahead of the curve," Conway said.
Tyler Silvy covers city and county government for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.