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Crowd packs CDOT meeting

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — A large group of Walsenburg residents, business people, and other Huerfanos packed city hall Tuesday night and made sure the Colorado Department of Transportation left with the overwhelming fact the concept of construction of a traffic roundabout in the intersection of Seventh and Main Streets is not locally supported.
Well over 100 individuals attended the city council work session with many arriving 20 to 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start time.
The session had originally been planned by CDOT as a come and go informational open house, but last week the city council moved to have the presentation made at a formal work session.
Emotions ran high and were evident by public comments, but Walsenburg Mayor Larry Patrick did keep the meeting orderly and on schedule.
Professional engineers Dean Van De Wege, senior project manager and Leonard Cheslock, a project manager of Jacobs Engineering of Denver along with Ajin Hu, a professional engineer and traffic/resident engineer from CDOT, explained the concept to the audience who were not to be swayed from their objections. There was organized objection to the proposal as one individual met attendees outside of city hall offering a four page information packet outlining objections and offering alternate solutions to Walsenburg traffic congestion.
Questions began with why this project, why here, and why at this time. A certain distrust of government was in the air as one citizen began her comments with, ‘we know you’re not the state, but you represent the state’. Hu said the transportation department had monitored the intersection and had reached the conclusion that lane encroachment especially by large semi tractor trailers was a serious enough safety hazard to warrant production of conceptual drawings. There were a number of informational presentation boards on display that showed alternative roundabout designs, estimated construction timelines and other information.
Many long-time business operators on Main Street said they could not remember the last time there was a major accident at the intersection and many expressed the view that installation of a roundabout would increase danger for drivers and pedestrians.
And then there was the economic factor as well. Van De Wege said in his opening remarks that it was very likely at least one of the businesses at the intersection would have to be acquired to accomplish the plan. Later in the meeting city council member Erin Jerant asked, “is this worth losing even one local business”? The resounding answer from the audience was, ‘No!’
Dave Garrett of Carl’s Jr. said the plan presented would likely close one entrance to his business which would cause an estimated 30-percent loss of revenue and likely lead to the restaurant’s demise in Walsenburg and the annual loss of $300,000 in payroll.
Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar had safety issues concerning the movement of emergency service vehicles, especially firefighting apparatus, through the roundabout and pedestrian safety, especially for patrons of Star Drug.
The four corner businesses that would be most immediately impacted by the proposal would be Old Reliable Car Care, Alcorn Black Diamond Plaza, Carl’s Jr. and Star Drug.
With local residents much more aware of the kind of unique oversize truck loads that move through the city and the huge part that two railroad crossings make on traffic congestion, the question was raised if the state doesn’t decide on the project, could the estimated $600,000 the roundabout would cost be used for other ‘local’ traffic improvements? Hu did not have an answer for that, but did say, after being pressed for an answer by at least three audience members, the state would have to consider the feelings of residents and business people in light of such strong opposition to the project.
She stopped short however, of saying that local objections would definitely kill the project.

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