The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the Colorado Highway 119 Safety and Mobility Improvements Project and Bikeway Project at a "1041" review in a hearing on April 20.
The "1041" designation is shorthand for an "Areas and Activities of State Interest" law which outlines how the county must manage projects that involve State of Colorado lands.
The BOCC hearing was the final step and highest level of government review in the county.
A significant outcome from this hearing was that the commissioners expressed support for an underpass under the railroad and the northbound lane of Colorado Highway 119 (the "Diagonal") so that people can safely walk or bike between Niwot and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station that will be built at the location of the RTD Niwot Park-n-Ride that presently sits between the two traffic directions of the Diagonal just north of Niwot Road, as well as access the new bikeway.
The county staff recommendation stated that this underpass idea is currently not "within the scope" of the Highway 119 project.
The principal parties provided their presentations with few changes from previous proceedings. Notable changes related to the greater visibility of the work that the Niwot Local Improvement District (LID) has done toward a possible Niwot underpass. The LID, members of other community organizations and Niwot residents have voiced the need for greater safety at the intersection of Niwot Road and the Diagonal and the need for an underpass. It was clear that the principals have listened.
The lead county planner for the 1041 process, Pete L'Orange, gave the county staff presentation and mentioned the requested underpass three times.
After L'Orange's presentation, Commissioner Stolzmann asked, "Would the scope be able to be changed without re-reviewing this 1041 process for that underpass?" L'Orange answered, "[The underpass could] be included in, say, the 90% plans that are reviewed without having to come back for a full 1041 review."
Commissioner Loachamin focused on the Niwot underpass request and also asked for consideration of an underpass at the Colorado Highway 52 (Mineral Road) intersection with the Diagonal. Loachamin specifically referenced conversations at the annual LID/BOCC meeting that took place in Niwot on April 27. Loachamin sought more information from the principals about why these underpasses are not already in the plan.
She said, "My concern is hearing from residents who are asking for accessibility to a significant infrastructure opportunity... What I'm hearing is we're going to see if it's feasible but somehow I would believe that that happened at the beginning. Was it really just about funding or was there decision making?"
Commissioner Levy addressed the bus queue jump lanes, which allow BRT buses to get ahead of backed up car traffic. Levy pointed out that queue jump lanes must be long enough for buses to enter the lane before encountering the backed up traffic. She also noted that although Boulder County was one of the applicants, the commissioners were acting in their review capacity at the hearing, and not in their capacity as applicants.
The applicants (Boulder County, CDOT and RTD) gave their presentations next. CDOT mentioned the Niwot underpass and repeated the idea that the project management contractor will have flexibility within financial constraints. Federal grant requests are being submitted for more money but the intent is to address integrating the project into Hover Street in Longmont, which is unfunded at this time.
CDOT reported that they intend for the contractor to break ground in the spring of 2024, with completion in 30 months.
Public testimony was taken during the hearing. Biff Warren, president of the Niwot Cultural Arts Association, said, "You've gotten a letter from us, basically all the organizations in Niwot, about the lack of an underpass to Niwot from the bikeway. I think that the underpass and the safety issues touch on many aspects of the [Boulder County] Comprehensive Plan."
"When I look at the [county] staff recommendation the thing that stands out to me,... the response is that [the underpass] is not within the scope of the project." Warren said that access to the bikeway from Niwot was within the scope of the project, but that the project as designed calls for that access to be at grade level across the Longmont-bound lanes of the Diagonal.
Warren acknowledged that the cost of an underpass was not part of the $160M budget. "Six million dollars is the estimate and we think that's a bit high," he said, but noted that it was only 3.7% of the budget. He concluded, "We would urge you to include [the underpass]."
Eric Bergeson, president of the Niwot Business Association, expressed appreciation for the meetings that the applicants, county staff and the county commissioners have had with people in Niwot and how Niwot is being listened to.
Bergeson focused on all the safety issues at the Diagonal/Niwot Road intersection. "What I see in the new design... I think we're missing the mark on making improvements there," Bergeson said. He noted that the project studies have concluded that cross-traffic will be waiting at signals longer, which might cause some people to cross when they shouldn't, which would increase accident rates. "We really really think that an underpass should be in the scope of this project," Bergeson said.
Niwot resident Elaine Erb, Sustainable Transportation Planner for Boulder Transportation Connections, talked about how stressful it is to walk across Highway 119 from Niwot to get to the southbound bus stop on the far side when she travels from Niwot to Boulder on the bus.
Another Niwot resident, Mike Grothus said, "A number of years ago the county made some changes to that [Highway 119 /Niwot Road] intersection. They took away things like the buttons that you used to be able to push on a bicycle to cross 119." Grothus encouraged the designers to take everything into consideration.
During another question and answer period county staff reported on an on-site visit to the Highway 119/Niwot Road intersection with CDOT and other principals. They reported on changes that will be made with flashing beacons to warn of signal timing, moving signals to make them more visible and aspects of the current configuration that contribute to driver confusion about when to proceed through the intersection. They also discussed a Niwot underpass while on site.
After over three hours, the commissioners quickly came to a decision. Commissioner Stolzmann made the motion, saying, "I move to approve ... with the additional two conditions added, the first being making meaningful effort to fund and build a grade-separated solution to connect the Park-n-Ride at Niwot with Niwot...." The motion was approved unanimously.