Town, CDOT Address Added OHV Access on Highway 149

Hinsdale County Commissioners addressed a formidable agenda of items at their Wednesday, March 4, meeting, including a joint meeting with Town of Lake City Mayor and Trustees. Trustees and Commissioners discussed at length a recent Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) approval which would extend Off Road Vehicle use on Highway 149 on Gunnison Avenue from Second Street to Ocean Wave Drive at Lake City Bakery. Last year, the first of a two-year pilot program geared toward allowing OHV drivers to connect the Alpine Loop from Henson Creek to the upper Lake Fork, allowed drivers to pilot their OHVs from the mouth of Henson Creek along Second Street and then south on Highway 149 to its juncture with County Road 30. The second year of the pilot program this coming summer allowing OHV access on Highway 149 begins in May and extends through September, 2020. Although now approved by CDOT, both Lake City Mayor Bruce Vierheller and Town Manager Caroline Mitchell emphasized that the final decision on whether the OHV route is extended north on Highway 149 will rest with the town. Town Manager Caroline Mitchell referred to the “evolving” nature of the CDOT pilot program in Lake City and said that CDOT concluded to consider extending OHV access as the result of congestion concerns which were brought to their attention by former Sheriff Justin Casey last fall. The ultimate decision for whether or not the route is extended, she added, falls to the town. Mayor Vierheller referenced the initial goal of the two-year pilot program was to connect the OHV route on both Lake City ends of the Alpine Loop. He noted that the route has now been expanded for the benefit of Lake City businesses. The decision to extend OHV access north on Highway 149, and requisite signage which will be needed, will be a discussion item at the Lake City Trustees’ Wednesday, March 18, workshop. In introducing expanding the OHV route, Hinsdale County Sheriff Chris Kambish stated that discussions had been ongoing well before he was appointed sheriff in January. “I was in the dark on this until just recently,” Sheriff Kambish told commissioners and trustees on Wednesday. He indicated that the CDOT approval to extend the OHV route on Highway 149 was based in part on law enforcement statistics which were compiled last summer, together with “confusion” from OHV drivers, and resulting congestion, which occurred along the stretch of Highway 149 from 8th Street to Ocean Wave Drive last summer. OHVs are allowed to traverse Town of Lake City streets, including Henson Street, according to Kambish, but many were confused after crossing Highway 149 in the vicinity of Guthmillers’ Lake City Sports Center and the Country Store, being uncertain which shoulder of the highway they should drive. The sole OHV accident which was recorded last year was in the vicinity of Lake City Sports Center when an OHV attempted to cross Highway 149 from the southbound shoulder. Sheriff Kambish expressed his view that the Highway 149 expansion would potentially remedy congestion which is occurring in the 8th Street to Ocean Wave Drive vicinity. “It’s a good thing as far as safety goes,” he said, and provides safer access to the Visitors’ Center, Climb Elevated Eatery, Post Office, Mountaineer Theatre, Lake City Auto, Country Store, and Lake City Bakery, as well as access to the Ball Flats and Riverside Estates neighborhoods. An added bonus, safer access to the north end of town will free up a considerable amount of time which Sheriff’s Office staff spends contacting OHV operators. The vast majority of contacts with OHV operators, he adds, is the result of their failure to comply with town and county ordinances in regard to equipment — helmets, registration stickers, etc. — and operating outside the allowed route. “Very few OHV operators were contacted for speeding or other moving violation,” according to the Sheriff. With extension of the Highway 149 OHV route, Kambish said OHVs would no longer be allowed to travel on the highway shoulder. In a Sheriff’s Office handout to the audience, Kambish stated that with the extension, traffic will be moved off the shoulder onto the highway which, “in turn, allows for traffic to flow normally.” “Our stance on enforcement of the rules/route will not change, OHV operators will be cited for operating outside of the allowed route on Highway 149.” Kambish also expressed his view that opening Highway 149 as an OHV route in town might lessen OHV impacts in other residential areas of the town, including Henson, Silver, and Bluff streets. From the audience, R.E. Hall noted that the recommendation to extend Highway 149 access north to Ocean Wave Drive did not address OHV access further north in the county to subdivisions north of Lake City or Tom Carl’s Toy Wash. As now being discussed, the Highway 149 extension would not address added OHV access to the south, specifically Latellya Smith’s Woodlake RV Park at the base of Slumgullion Pass. Also in the audience, Ron Bruce told commissioners and trustees that he had been in contact with Colorado State Patrol’s George Dingfelder who indicated his belief that CDOT would be amenable to an OHV extension along Highway 149 from Elk Road in San Juan Hills Subdivision to the north of Lake City extending south to the CDOT yard at the base of Slumgullion Pass. Also at the county board’s March 4 meeting, Commissioner Susan Thompson led a discussion and update on the county’s efforts to improve broadband availability in the Lake Fork Valley. As previously reported, matching dollars will be sought for $50,000 which is available from Region 10 for “middle mile” Broadband installation. At Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Thompson suggested the formation of a “consortium” comprised of Region 10, anchor institutions such as the town, county, school, medical center, and library, and ISPs (Independent Service Providers) which would oversee the envisioned broadband fiber “loop” which is proposed for underground construction in Lake City, connecting town and county offices, medical center, school and library. Consortium members would own and control the enhanced fiber passing through the conduit link, termed by Thompson the “middle mile” and would in turn sell it to ISPs fpr “final mile” connection to homes and businesses. As owners of the loop conduit and fiber, the consortium would entail monthly expense upgrading the fiber from the present 1.6-gig to an envisioned 10-gig. Those monthly expenses, according to Thompson, would be paid for by the consortium in turn selling the added fiber content to the ISPs. The underground installation would be facilitated, as explained by Commissioner Thompson, by taking advantage of underground sewer line and drainage projects, together with two planned cuts of Highway 149, which are planned in Lake City starting this summer. The underground projects, as explained by Commissioner Thompson and Town Mayor Vierheller, would be an ideal time to install subsurface conduit tino which fiber would be added at a later date. The conduit installation has received a boost this week with confirmation that Hinsdale County has received a $5,000 no-match grant to purchase conduit awarded by SIPA (Statewide Internet Portal Authority). SIPA has also awarded the county $2,000 for an upgrade to the county’s website, enhancing navigation and to provide additional online services. Mayor Vierheller concurred with Thompson’s assessment for the immediate need of improved broadband capacity: “Better communication and internet is the goal for all residents of the town and valley.”