Q.  Why is the US 550 connection being reconsidered?
A. In 2007, CDOT began design of the US 550 connection to US 160, as called for in the 2006 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Record of Decision (US 160 EIS).  During design, CDOT discovered a gas well had been constructed in the selected alignment since final EIS surveys had been completed. CDOT designed a new alignment that avoided the gas well. In reviewing this alignment, CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office, determined that a portion of the ranch where US 550 was to cross is eligible for the "National Register of Historic Places,” as were three other ranches on the mesa.

Q.  Was this historic ranch considered in the initial study?
As part of the original EIS process, this area had been surveyed for individual historic structures. Since then, the national trend in historic preservation is to consider landscapes—such as ranches and farms as a whole—in addition to individual architectural structures. So while CDOT and FHWA met all of the existing requirements during the EIS process, the approach taken to identify historic sites had changed since the Record of Decision was signed, requiring new analysis. There are four historic landscapes on the mesa.

Q.  What has happened to address a US 550 connection so far?
A. In 2009, FHWA and CDOT began a reevaluation process to look at US 550 alignments that avoid or minimize impacts to the four historic landscapes and other cultural sites. Five alternatives for a US 550/US 160 connection were reexamined through a federal Section 4(f) process. In spring 2011, this process resulted in a draft document (available on CDOT’s web site) showing that the alignment identified in the original 2006 Record of Decision (modified to avoid a gas well) is still the least impactful to historic and archaeological sites. Then, CDOT and FHWA initiated the development of a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). The SDEIS revisits only the US 550 south connection to US 160, not the entire US 160 corridor. CDOT and FHWA are supplementing the existing 2006 EIS to address the newly identified impacts to historic and archaeological sites and any other changes related to the connection of US 550—both natural and manmade, including regulatory. The SDEIS is available for review and public comment through November 28, 2011. This draft document evaluates three reasonable alternatives for a US 550 connection based on whether they meet purpose and need requirements for highway improvements (capacity, safety and access), as well as cost and logistical factors.

Q.  What are the US 550 connections being considered?
The alternatives evaluated in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) are:  1) Revised G Modified, the 2006 Record of Decision Preferred Alternative (with a slight alignment shift), which would realign US 550 to connect at the current interchange; 2) Revised F Modified, which connects at Three Springs Blvd.; and 3) Eastern Realignment, which also connects at Three Springs Blvd. Alternatives can be viewed here.)

Q.  Which connection is the Preferred Alternative in the SDEIS?
A. Revised G Modified, the 2006 Record of Decision Preferred alternative (with a slight alignment shift to avoid a gas well), which would realign US 550 to connect at the current interchange. This alternative is shown in the draft document to have the least impacts to residents and businesses, to irrigated farmland, to wildlife habitat, to wetlands and to historic sites (see map)

Q.  Which alignments were not evaluated in the SDEIS?
A. Alternatives not evaluated in detail in the SDEIS include a western realignment, and several alternatives utilizing the existing US 550 alignment and its current connection with US 160 (known locally as Farmington Hill).  It was determined that these alternatives do not meet the purpose and need requirements (capacity, safety, access) or other screening criteria (cost, logistics). Additionally, a ‘No Action’ alternative was analyzed that would keep US 550 on its current alignment, where poor geometry, low design speeds and two-lane capacity on a north-facing steep grade presents both capacity and safety issues This alternative is evaluated in the SDEIS to provide a benchmark for comparison of the environmental impacts.

Q.  Where can I get more information on the draft document?
The document is available to the public at Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio public libraries, San Juan Public Lands Center, City of Durango, La Plata County and CDOT’s main Durango office at 3803 N. Main Avenue.

Q.  How can I make comments on the document?
Formal comments on the SDEIS are no longer being accepted. The 45-day public comment period began on October 14, 2011 and ended on November 28, 2011. After the Draft SEIS was prepared, a public hearing was held on November 2, 2011, at Escalante Middle School in Durango. The public was able to comment at the hearing, and could also send comments via mail or the web site through the November 28, 2011 deadline.

Q.  When will a final decision about a US 550 connection be made?
A. Following incorporation of public comments, a Final EIS will be prepared, and the Federal Highway Administration will produce a Record of Decision on a US 550/US 160 in late 2012.

Q.  Is an interchange needed if US 550 does not connect there?
Yes. Not one, but three interchanges are actually called for in the 2006 EIS Record of Decision (posted on CDOT’s web site). Traffic modeling and area development projections for the original EIS were completed in coordination with the City of Durango and La Plata County, using—among other resources—the city’s “2004 Grandview Area Plan.” Traffic studies show a traffic signal on this section of highway would fail by 2025—or at full planned development build-out.

In 2009 on peak travel days, an average of 27,875 vehicles traveled this stretch of highway through Grandview. Traffic projections show that by 2030, 44,478 vehicles will travel US 160 on peak travel days near the interchange; factoring in future development laid out in the Grandview Area Plan, this number is 85,910 vehicles per day in 2030 during peak season travel (these numbers are conservative, and consider the current economic downturn).