The Southern Mountain Loop Planning and Environmental Linkage Study will provide

The Southern Mountain Loop Planning and Environmental Linkage Study will provide a detailed implementation plan and funding strategies to put plans into action. Improvements to highway and pedestrian safety as well as increased access to recreational opportunities, such as hiking and biking, were just some of the considered improvements and additions to the Highway of Legends (Highway 12) wrapping around the Spanish Peaks from Walsenburg to Trinidad.

Southern Mountain Loop (SML) Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Project Team will host a virtual public open house when they will share their findings regarding the SML Highway 12 PEL study on Thursday, July 23 at 6 p.m.

The purpose of the project, which began in 2019, is to improve highway safety and provide a regional and local multi-use trail, completing the Colorado Front Range Trail (CFRT), along the byway. The CFRT is a planned multi-use trail by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) along the Front Range from Wyoming to New Mexico. This study, being conducted as a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study, will determine a master plan of future projects to improve highway safety and provide a multi-use trail.

“For the safety of our community during this COVID-19 pandemic, CDOT and SCCOG will be hosting this virtual meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Thursday, July 23 through Zoom,” read a news release from the team. “Anyone interested may participate by computer or smart phone. Registration is required.”

To receive the registration link for the public open house, contact them in advance by emailing SouthernMountainLoop@gmail.com.

The study evaluates a long-term program of Byway improvements identified the byway’s transportation-related needs. Opportunities for the improved safety and accommodation of travelers and recreationalists who live in and visit the region were also considered.

“Based on these needs, a master plan of integrated improvements was recommended,” read the newsletter. “The study’s goals of improving safety for all travelers, providing a well-connected multi-use trail, preserving and promoting the region’s natural environment and communities, and complementing the byway’s continued development provided the basis for these recommendations.

Included in the master plan were several project considerations. The first was “Highway Safety Project,” which is descried as a program of corridor-wide safety projects that would include upgraded signage and pavement treatments, wider and continuous roadway shoulders, safer roadway alignments, roadside treatments in several local areas, and safer pedestrian crossings within La Veta, Cuchara, and Stonewall.

The next projects for consideration were “Multi-use Trail Projects,” which provide a selective and narrow range of trail alternatives to be studied further. These could be along the byway, attached to the highway, or separated but within CDOT right-of-way. They could also be along new routes independent of the byway in localized areas.

 “These local off-highway trail alternative routes, to be studied further following the PEL Study, are along existing railroads, within the San Isabel National Forest, or along portions of the byway too steep to accommodate all bicyclists and pedestrians” said the newsletter.

“Byway Amenity Projects” were also considered and consisted of improving byway features such as scenic pull-offs, visitor centers with restrooms and traveler information, and interpretive signage to enhance the byway experience for travelers and visitors.

Moving forward, implementing the PEL Study project recommendations will include additional opportunities for public input and engagement but funding is the key trigger for advancing the recommended projects.

With funding limitations in place for many state and related agencies, all projects cannot move forward at once which means a strategic and itemized approach to delivery is needed based on individual project priorities identified through partnerships and by leveraging available opportunities.

According to the newsletter, “The full build-out of the recommended projects can be accomplished over time while providing incremental benefits to the region as each project is completed. Engagement and coordination with the public and local communities will continue to be integral to delivering the recommended projects.

The newsletter also went on to explain that the PEL Study would not be the final opportunity for local stakeholders to provide input and be engaged, but rather the first step in a series of future engagement opportunities.

A final report for the PEL Study, which documents the study’s decision making and agency coordination, will be published and available for public review on the project website at www.codot.gov/library/studies/co-12-sml-pel.

It will present planning-level details on the project recommendations and provide guidance on the next steps. The report also enables each project to move forward independently by the sponsoring agencies and will be incorporated into the additional, more-detailed study of the trail alternatives.

Additionally, those who cannot make the meeting but still would like to offer input on the study can email them at SouthernMountainLoop@gmail.com or call them at 719-427-1078.

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