Either a By-pass or a Different Main Street. Those were the long-range options from the Colorado Department of Transportation, listed by Paul Westhoff, resident engineer for CDOT in southeast Colorado. He held an informational briefing for City of Lamar and Prowers County representatives, as well as interested citizens this past Wednesday, June 26, at council chambers.
Westhoff said CDOT had planned some revisions for Main Street in Lamar, Highways 287/385 back in 1998, but in light of by-pass plans moving ahead and a resurfacing project in 2004, CDOT held off on any major changes. But statewide construction finances have improved for Colorado recently and the by-pass presentation, which has been on the books for numerous years, made the first round of cuts this year, putting it on a faster track. “Right now, this by-pass project is one of the top five being considered along the entire Ports to Plains Corridor connecting Canada to Mexico,” he explained. There are dozens of projects up for consideration using accelerated partnership or RAMP funding in the state and Lamar may make the second round of cuts if an application is in to the state by the end of June. City Administrator, John Sutherland, attended the meeting and said the council is willing to consider a motion to continue support for the by-pass. He said the letter would also include ‘escape clauses’ that gives the city the right and puts them on record to reserve their right to withdraw anytime the city doesn’t feel it can afford to continue. Once the application is sent, the bypass project will be evaluated for continued funding with the outcome expected later this summer.
More traffic is expected along the highway in years to come, increased mostly by the border to border Ports to Plains highway improvement project. If there is no bypass or Reliever Route developed, Main Street in Lamar will be in for some changes from CDOT to accommodate the increased traffic. Westhoff said, “The street will have existing 11 foot lanes widened to 12 feet, the median will be eliminated as well as curbside parking. There’s also the chance that the width of the sidewalks may be increased as well as an opportunity for pedestrian enhancement for the downtown area.” Westhoff said CDOT’s prime concern is for highway safety. Along with no parking along Main Street downtown though, Westhoff said driveway access along the 287/385 stretch will be eliminated. Anyone who wants to shop downtown Lamar will have to find parking off Main Street.
CDOT has estimated that the city and county would receive $21 million through 2017 for future years to maintain the highway following a property transfer from the state to the city. $5 million is earmarked for bridge and road repair. The city and county would need to come up with an $8 million match for the estimated $60 million bypass project. The county has already contributed $500,000 over the years with right of way purchases. The city and county would also have to determine how much of the $16 million goes to each entity for future road repair. Westhoff said there are formulas that aid in that process, determined by how much highway mileage falls to the city and county.
The bypass to the south begins around CR CC near milemarker 72.5 and ends at 77.4 north of Lamar. Highway 50 is also impacted by the project east of Lamar from milemarker 432.9 to 434.5. Two bridges among several along the proposed bypass would need some upgrades, including the highway bridge spanning the Arkansas River and that cost concerns the county. There’s also the economic impact to downtown Lamar in either scenario that has been uppermost in people’s minds. Instead of just how will downtown stores stay solvent with the bypass, it’s also now, how will they survive if there’s no parking along Main Street? Administrator Sutherland held a department head meeting on Thursday to explore how the city and downtown could capitalize on a new revenue stream if the bypass could be commercially developed. He said the meeting also explored some potential changes in the makeup of the sidewalk frontage along the street.
Any business move out to the bypass would come with a cost though. Commissioner Joe Marble mentioned that an entirely new infrastructure for water, gas and electricity would have to be installed along the route to accommodate any new businesses, along with a common frontage road. Westhoff said there are CDOT plans for two intersections to the north and south of Highway 50 along the bypass, but it would be up to local municipalities to build the connector back to Main Street. Sutherland said he preferred to view Lamar as a regional shopping hub. “We have a chance to use the advice of the Urban Land Institute and PUMA, Progressive Urban Management Associates, for the next three years, to help us develop a marketing plan for the Lamar community,” he explained. ULI recently conducted a health oriented survey of Lamar early this summer to determine cost efficient ways to develop an active, healthy lifestyle for residents. The information that comes from those studies can be applied to developing a new business model for the downtown area.
By Russ Baldwin
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