Town Wants Alternative to Highway 62 ‘Suicide Lane’
by Peter Shelton
Feb 17, 2011 | 3046 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RIDGWAY – An ungainly but lovingly crafted trophy occupied a central place on the table fronting the Ridgway Town Council last Wednesday night. It was crafted of an antique plane, springs and dials, and it would be fully explained later in the meeting.

First, council grappled with a number of issues extending well into Ridgway’s future, including: the possible expansion of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area, the ongoing negotiations between town staff and the Colorado Department of Transportation on the three-laning of Highway 62 through town, and a new 10-year master plan for the Ouray County Fairgrounds, some of which (the race track, for example) sits on town property.

Town Manager Jen Coates and Town Engineer Joanne Fagan reported on their most recent conversations with CDOT. Coates didn’t know whether to characterize the talks as negotiation or evolution. But she did see some accommodation with the town’s Streetscape Plan.

CDOT’s plan, she reported, is to expand the Hwy. 62 bridge over the Uncompahgre River in 2012, then in 2015 to widen the highway through town to include a center turn lane (“suicide” lane) from one end of Sherman Street to the other.

A couple of months ago, council discussed CDOT’s proposed road cross-section, and made suggestions for changes based on the Streetscape goals, including wider sidewalks, trees planted in grates along the sidewalks, and colored-concrete crosswalks at key intersections.

CDOT’s response, Coates reported, was “Glad you are supportive of the bike lanes.”

The town did support the bike lanes, but other home-grown suggestions received less enthusiastic responses. “Our request for 9.5-foot sidewalks was cut to 9 feet,” Coates reported. “They did cut the center turn lane down from 16 feet wide to 13 feet. They said no to the tree grates; they believe the water undermines the structural integrity of the road. We could probably still have trees in boxes. And they said we would have to do the colored-concrete crosswalks ourselves.”

Councilmember Ellen Hunter asked about the possibility of “necking down” the three-lane, so that it just affected the downtown core. Or of building center dividers and actual turn lanes, like the ones in Montrose and Delta. “The more you put in the roadway, in the center,” she said, “the more people slow down.”

Councilmember Eric Johnson agreed. “You’d break it (the suicide lane) up visually, and you’d slow people down.”

“Would you be willing then to restrict the alleys to ‘right-in, right-out’?” asked Fagan, indicating that a center divider prevents left turns other than at intersections.

“Someone coming out of an alley should not be able to cross the highway,” Hunter ventured.

“I think there’ll be a lot more conversation,” said Coates. “They’re trying to work with us.”

“I think we’re progressing,” volunteered Mayor Pat Willits. “I would still be a proponent of the necking down. Otherwise, it just looks like a highway from Amelia Street to the river.”

“A racetrack,” added Councilman Rich Durnan.

“The neck-down idea is really trying to define our downtown,” Coates clarified. “Our commercial center defined as different from the residential west end. I would still support the neck-down.” So far, CDOT has not said whether it would consider limiting the third lane to just the downtown core. Talks are ongoing.

Joanne Fagan had the last word: “I think CDOT’s budget will have a substantial impact on what we get.”


Sheelagh Williams of the Ridgway-Ouray Community Council addressed the Ridgway Town Council at its regular February meeting about the need to update its letter of support for expanding the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area.

“We do have a new congressman, and he is taking it under consideration,” Williams said of the bill, the San Juans Wilderness Act, which had been championed by former Third District Congressman John Salazar but which failed to pass the last Congress.

“To have any hope of passage, we need [new Congressman Scott Tipton’s] support. The congressman whose district it is,” Williams said.

Councilmember Ellen Hunter asked if council should rewrite the 2007 resolution, and Town Manager Jen Coates said yes, staff would redraft the letter to reflect some changes: the fact that the proposed expansion is smaller than it was previously – Williams promised council a new map soon – and the fact that the Act specifically protects Ridgway’s municipal water rights in the headwaters of Beaver Creek.

That’s important, Williams said. “Your water rights are not encumbered in the proposal.” Unlike, for example, in the legislation that created Black Canyon National Park, which claimed, or created, certain perpetual rights for the river itself. Ridgway’s water could not be touched.

Mayor Pat Willits said, “We’ll consider it [an updated draft] at our March meeting.”


Ouray County Fairground Manager Susan Long gave the Ridgway Town Council a first look at a new, 10-year draft master plan for the facility at last week’s council meeting.

The plan is the result of 11 months of work on the part of the volunteer Fairgrounds Advisory Council, and represents a needed amending of the master plan now that the 4H Event Center is drawing diverse uses. (The old master plan was designed to go through 2004.)

“We’ve added different types of events that could be accommodated and encouraged,” Long said, including more conferences and non-profit uses. “We’ve tried to look into the future.”

There is new set of four broad-based goals and a “wish list,” Long said. “We want to redo that grandstand, for example. And build a new pole barn. And replace some fences. Everything is on the list. They may not all stay, due to budgetary concerns of the county, etcetera. But they’re all there in the plan.”

The four goals are: to increase and expand events at the fairgrounds; to have a sustainable system for developing and tracking revenue; to continue to support 4H; and to work on an emergency management/disaster relief plan should the fairgrounds be needed to shelter people and animals in the event of natural disaster.

“We’ve also added to the mission statement to say that all of these activities should be to the benefit, economically, of the entire county,” Long said.

“It’s an ambitious plan,” said Councilmember Rick Weaver.

“It is ambitious,” agreed Long. “But this group took their charge seriously. And it’s time.”

She said there would be meetings to hear public comment on the draft plan; the town as a landowner, and an affected party, would of course be involved. And that she’d “love to be able to have the master plan completed by summer 2011.”


At its January meeting Ridgway’s Town Council had asked staff to further explore the idea of changing its annexation policy, specifically the “payment in lieu of water rights” clause. That clause was there to help guarantee that, even with new growth, the town didn’t run out of water in a prolonged dry spell, when water users with more senior rights could place a call on Ridgway’s municipal water. The policy required new developments to pay up front based on the cost of buying augmentation water from Tri County Water Conservation District, which owns most of the water in the Ridgway Reservoir.

No new annexations have occurred since the policy has been in place. The first potential development to be affected, now being discussed with landowners Linda and Bob Ingo, had prompted re-evaluation of the policy.

Town Manager Jen Coates reported that there was an ongoing feasibility study for improving the town’s water storage at Lake Otonawanda on Miller Mesa. The cost to repair Lake O was higher than originally thought, she said, more like $4,300 per acre-foot than the first estimate of $3,000 per acre-foot.

“But still less,” said Town Engineer Joanne Fagan, “than the cost of buying augmentation water.” And, Fagan continued, “It’s better to be on our own.” Unlike augmentation rights, “This is water we really have.”

Councilmember Ellen Hunter commented, “I think this is a good change. I’d make a motion that we approve a change of wording” to reflect the town’s decision to further develop its own water capacity.


“After two years of utter agony, we have finally brought home this magnificent trophy.”

The speaker was Ridgway Town Councilman Rick Weaver. And he was talking about the traveling trophy awarded to the winners of the annual Mount Sneffels Education Foundation Spelling Bee competition.

This year’s contest was a Trivia Bowl. And the team entered from the Town of Ridgway, self-named The Minutia Men, took top honors. Teammembers were Weaver, Mayor Pro Tem John Clark, Councilman Eric Johnson and Town Manager Jen Coates.

“It was pretty cool,” Weaver crowed. “We even beat the Knowledge Bowl team from Ouray High School. They were tough. But afterward they complained that the questions were ‘too old.’”

The Rube Goldberg-ian wood and metal sculpture will remain in Ridgway Town Hall until next year’s meeting of the minds.

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