The Estes Park Town Board of Trustees voted 5-1 not to place the proposal to create a Downtown Loop on the fall ballot. Instead, the Board opted to await the final results of a required federal environmental assessment, due late this year or early in 2016, and then make a decision itself on the project that has created controversy in Estes Park.
Town Administrator Frank Lancaster said that preliminary findings in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study have revealed that the cost of creating the one-way couplet that would divert eastbound U.S. Highway 36 could be nearly double the announced $17.2 million cost. The problems are the bridges involved, he told the board – and the capacity of the Big Thompson River that flows beneath them.
Under the Downtown Loop proposal, westbound U.S. 36 traffic, toward the park, would use the highway’s current but eastbound U.S. 36 would be diverted at the Moraine Avenue curve onto West Riverside Drive, across a new bridge over the Big Thompson at Ivy Street, then north on East Riverside Drive to reconnect with Elkhorn east of the downtown core.
Lancaster said that making the three bridges involved in the project able to handle a 100-year flood event also would require raising the roadway on either side to get to them making the project twice as expensive. The Town had planned to pay for the one-way couplet with $13 million in Federal Lands Access Project (FLAP) grant funds and a $4.2 million local match from CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program. If the plan is scrapped, the town will have to give back the federal money and find another way to repair the bridges, but could keep the RAMP funds for other uses.
However, there is a third option, according to Lancaster (besides either building the Loop or doing nothing). He would not reveal its details yet but said he hopes to add the third option to the NEPA study.