The swap saves the blocks from San Juan to Townsend avenues not only from big trucks, but gives the city new ownership of the street west of that point.
The heart of the downtown commercial district as well as city and county government offices will all become more accessible, said Assistant City Planner Scott Shine.
“We went through all the paces to make sure the community as well as the downtown business owners knew the benefits and they expressed support for the project,” Shine said.
After the state Transportation Committee approved the swap last week, Shine said a lot of people gave positive input, including the Heart of the City committee of the Montrose Area Merchants Association.
Initially, the state approval allows the city to work with the Colorado Department of Transportation to change signage along the route, but the actual “transfer of real estate” won’t happen for about a month, Shine said.
“Then the city owns Main Street and is able to control how that’s designed and have a say over anything that would happen down there,” he said.
The new signage will redirect people to the new Hwy. 50, he said, and will advertise Montrose more clearly.
“We also are looking at a potential design for Main Street, but a lot is up in the air,” Shine said. “We look at things like traffic volume, what are the desires of local businesses as well as parking to see how that can come together to make downtown a real destination.”
The bypass via San Juan Avenue to U.S. Hwy. 50 north and U.S. Hwy. 550 was completed in 2001, Shine said, and efforts to change the federal route began “in earnest” about a year ago.
“We’ve been meeting with CDOT regularly, and the (city) council did a lot of leadership on making it a high priority,” he said. “They value downtown a lot.”
Grand Junction’s downtown is a good model to follow, Shine said. A recent visit there during this year’s first Farmer’s Market downtown had crowds of people dining and sipping wine at outdoor cafes and while others strolled through dozens of vendor booths for several blocks.
Shine said the final proposal for the swap was presented to the Transportation Commission by Weldon Allen, regional transportation director for CDOT, who was accompanied to Denver by City Manager Mary Watt and other city staff.
The city said in a news release that the transfer will improve the appearance and vitality of the downtown area and many projects will be funded and controlled by the proposed Downtown Development Authority.
“This swap is the culmination of a long-term effort by city staff, who crafted the proposal, initiated public outreach on the topic, conducted traffic studies and a cost/benefit analysis, and worked with CDOT to complete an access management plan for the San Juan corridor,” the city said.