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Environment

Construction On Downtown Estes Park Loop To Start In 2021

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Town of Estes Park
Estes Park's population at last check was 6,257 but the town's annual visitation is over 2 million people.

By just one vote, Estes Park’s board of trustees narrowly approved a controversial plan to create a traffic loop through the downtown area in order to combat increasing tourist gridlock. The 4 to 3 vote was a culmination of four years of project evaluations and discussions that divided the community on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. But bulldozers won’t appear any time soon. It will be five years before construction begins on the Downtown Estes Loop.

The project will turn downtown Estes Park streets — including Elkhorn Avenue, Moraine Avenue and East/West Riverside Drives — into a one-way loop with the aim of easing summer traffic jams.

The intersection of Moraine Avenue and Crags Drive with be converted into a roundabout for the project, and the Ivy Street bridge which was damaged in the 2013 flooding, will be replaced.

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Credit Town of Estes Park
The map of the Downtown Estes Loop project. A final design has not been approved.

In July 2016, a federal environmental assessment “showed the original Downtown Estes Loop concept -- the one-way couplet -- was the best ‘build’ alternative and the only alternative that can be pursued with current funding,” according to a press release from the town.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the majority of the funding for the $17 million project in 2013. But because a decision by the town on whether to go forward with the loop was stalled for years, the agency announced it would push dispersing the construction funding to 2021.

“It’s not going to keep us from moving ahead with the initial steps necessary, like final design, or acquisition of the right of way that is necessary for the project,” said town spokeswoman Kate Rush. “But it will mean that construction will not take place until 2021.”

Rush said it’s not clear if the federal funding for the project will be secure under president-elect Donald Trump’s administration. The grant money is included in a 5-year plan by the U.S. Department of Transportation, but budgets are allocated annually.

A quarter of the funding will be provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The purpose of the grant is to help state and local governments ease tourist travel to and from places like Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors must drive through Estes Park to access any of the park’s eastern gates.

Before the trustee vote, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson wrote in an email response that it was “unclear” if the loop project would get people to the gates faster.

“Popularity and high visitation during the summer and fall, particularly during 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. means congested roads, long lines and wait times at entrance stations, full parking lots and busy trails,” Patterson wrote. “That will be the situation in either case.  However, we do assume that it would help with egress from the park in the late afternoon or after a thunderstorm.”

Park representatives wrote a letter of support for the project in April 2013. A record-breaking  4.2 million-plus people visited the park in 2016.

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