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Greeley takeover of U.S. 34, 85 business routes called logical step

GREELEY – No firm proposals are yet on the table, say officials from the city of Greeley and the Colorado Department of Transportation, but they agree that a takeover by the city of some streets now designated as “business routes” for U.S. Highways 34 and 85 would be a move that makes sense.

“We’d call it a jurisdictional transfer of ownership,” Greeley Public Works director Paul Trombino said. “The state has another name for it. They call it ‘devolution.’”

No such action is on Greeley’s radar so far regarding Eighth Avenue as Business Route 85 or West Ninth and 10th streets as Business Route 34, Trombino said. However, he has noted in the past that “there is a point where it’s in the state’s and city’s interest where we have more control over those streets.

“For any project or work, the permitting authority is CDOT, so there’s reasons to do that” city takeover, he said. “It’s really a city street more than anything else, so there’s reasons for us to have more say as to its shape and what it looks like. I think that’s more efficient for us and for the city.”

It’s not uncommon for a new highway bypass of a town or city to be built but for the older routes to maintain a “business route” designation. And, CDOT regional communications manager Jared Fiel added, it’s not uncommon for towns and cities to take over those routes and for their numbered highway designation to disappear.

Such an event happened in Estes Park, he said, when the U.S. 34 bypass made the numbered designation along West Elkhorn Avenue unnecessary. 

“That section in the middle of Estes Park doesn’t operate like a state highway anymore,” Fiel said. “That road kind of changed use. Generally it’s a request from a municipality first, and Estes Park wanted to do traffic a different way. Sometimes a road has clearly become more of a city road.”

Such devolution already has occurred in Greeley in the case of East Eighth Street toward the city’s airport, which once was designated as Colorado Highway 263. Parts of that road were turned back to the city in 2007.

“When we do that, we usually have to pay them something to take it over because they then are in charge of things like plowing and repaving,” Fiel said. “It’s an asset that you have to keep up.”

Trombino agreed. “Streets have a function, but they’re really a forever liability, so it’s really important for us to treat them well. We’re constantly extending their lives,” he said. “The value is in the land it sits next to. It’s important for streets not to be an inhibitor to the value along the land – the structures, the buildings, the land it sits next to. We want to make sure the streets are an enabler to that asset’s value and growth.”

As it is, Trombino said, the city has agreements with CDOT for upkeep of those business routes, “one for traffic signals and one for general maintenance,” in which the state subsidizes Greeley’s work.

“It’s not a lot of dollars,” he said. “But the contracts get redone every four years and lay out all the issues.

“We do the maintenance not only on Business 85 and 34 but also on U.S. 85 and 34,” he said. “We handle a lot of the operational issues for them.”

Greeley wants to have “a great partnership with CDOT, and I think we do,” said Trombino, pointing to the ambitious Mobility Enhancement for Regional Growth and Equity, or MERGE project. The $117.5 million proposal would change at-grade crossings of U.S. 34 at 35th and 47th avenues into grade-separated interchanges and create a new mobility hub in the CenterPlace area for regional and local connectivity including Bus Rapid Transit. The “equity” part is involved because the project would alleviate the separation between north and south portions of the city of Greeley by adding  safe movements for pedestrians and other forms of mobility.

Trombino’s department is pursuing a $70.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which would be added to $31.5 million from the city, $8 million from CDOT and $7.5 million from the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Talk of Greeley taking back Business Routes 34 and 85 from the state may have been revived in March when Trombino told a City Council work session that his department was thinking of scrapping the one-way traffic layout of West Ninth and 10th streets between 10th and 23rd avenues. His rough-draft idea was to convert that stretch of more commercially oriented Ninth Street to four lanes of two-way traffic, while the more residential 10th Street to two lanes of two-way traffic.

Currently, that stretch of Ninth and 10th – now known as part of Business Route 34 – have three lanes each, with westbound Ninth handling between 7,900 and 10,550 average daily trips and eastbound 10th carrying between 8,400 and 10,700 average daily trips.

He told the council that the corridor is one of Greeley’s most crash-prone because traffic routinely far exceeds the speed limit, and a solution could involve “calming” traffic through improvements to transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

But because it’s a designated highway, he told the study session, CDOT would have to be involved in any change to the layout.

And thus, chatter about taking back the streets gained in volume over the summer.

“We’ve had conversations with CDOT about that,” Trombino said. “We’ve had some dialogue about what that would look like. We have a regular meeting with CDOT Region 4 to talk about all issues.

“They would give us ownership from a permitting perspective,” he said. “It would be us permitting everything along Eighth Avenue, Ninth and 10th streets.”

Exchange of money between the city and state “depends on negotiations,” Trombino said. “Like anything else, the streets need investment. All streets do. It’s important for the city and for us to understand what those long-term implications are. If we were to go down that path, that requires a lot of conversations across lots of entities within the city – city manager, City Council, all those.

“What the financial component would be, I can’t tell you,” he said. “If there were a transfer of jurisdictions, it would be the right of way – between the end of sidewalk to end of sidewalk. Anything that happens – work, new access points, development – that now requires a permit and coordination with CDOT. If that jurisdiction transfers, then we would be the authority and that right of way would transfer to the city.

“We’re still trying to better understand what the framework potentially could look like,” he said. “There’s a lot of work yet to be done.”

Source: BizWest