Highlands Ranch

Traffic drives complaints, quest for solutions

A look at roadway patterns and what the county is doing to help

Posted

Jackie Bradley moved to Highlands Ranch 25 years ago when there was little development south of Highlands Ranch Parkway and University Boulevard and County Line Road were two-lane streets.

“I've seen a lot of changes,” said Bradley, whose home backs up to Highlands Ranch High School near University Boulevard. “The biggest is that it can be gridlocked through here from 4 to 6 in the afternoon.”

Highlands Ranch, a master-planned community that broke ground in 1980, has nearly reached build-out of roughly 100,000 residents. The population growth and commercial development of remaining open spaces have also spurred a significant increase in traffic.

“Traffic is the number one complaint in every community in the Front Range," said Duane Cleere, Douglas County's traffic operations manager. "And Highlands Ranch is no exception.”

The surge in traffic congestion, influenced by an influx of people to the Denver metro area, is one of the state's most critical issues, and lawmakers are seeking solutions. Recently introduced by the Democratic speaker of the House and the Republican Senate president, House Bill 1242 would seek voter approval to raise the state's sales tax by 0.62 percent to help pay for transportation infrastructure.

The need for transportation funding reflects the growth in population. The Denver metro area — which encompasses Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson, Denver, Broomfield  and Douglas counties — was home to about 2.7 million people in 2015, an increase of roughly 250,000 residents since 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs State Demography Office.

Douglas County alone grew from 285,465 people in 2010 to 322,387 residents in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Concern about traffic congestion is apparent in a community survey conducted by the county. In 2010, 37 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that traffic congestion across the county was improving. That number reached 48 percent in a 2014 survey. The county is conducting a new survey this year.

Douglas County Commissioner Roger Partridge said improving the traffic situation is a priority for the board.

“Among our board’s shared, core priorities  – and one of our most significant annual budget commitments — is to develop and maintain a safe, accessible transportation network not only in unincorporated Douglas County, but also working in cooperation with and through our city, town, state and federal partners."

Bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic are commonplace throughout the metro area — on Interstate 25, C-470 and high-capacity urban roads such as University Boulevard — during rush hour.

The blockage has spilled over into the suburbs, including Highlands Ranch, residents and county officials agree, creating increasing gridlock on main arteries, but also triggering a rise in automobile accidents and worsening congestion in school zones.

A changing roadscape

Longtime residents recall life in Highlands Ranch in its early years when traffic was nonexistent.

"When I moved here, there were no traffic lights and I had to go to County Line and Holly to food shop and get gas," said Marje Marvex, who moved to the community in 1991. "I'd say it has changed immensely."

Marilyn Bayless, who moved to Weatherstone — a neighborhood south of Wildcat Reserve Parkway — in 1999, remembers she couldn't get pizza delivered to her home because restaurants said "it was too far."

Now, more than 15 years later, Highlands Ranch is bustling with cars during peak travel times.

High-traffic areas in Highlands Ranch predominantly occur at major crossroads along Highlands Ranch Parkway, University Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue.

Statistics for the number of cars on the road don't exist for all roadways and intersections. The county uses two tools to measure traffic, an average daily traffic count for the number of cars between intersections and a movement count for the number of cars turning at intersections. Those counts, which show a snapshot of traffic in Highlands Ranch, are only done for specific hours of a day, Cleere said.

A traffic count in 2008 showed the number of vehicles per day on South University Boulevard near East Crosspoint Drive — south of Highlands Ranch High School — was 38,000. That number jumped to 43,000 in 2015.

And in 2015, 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles a day traveled the stretch of University Boulevard that becomes Lincoln Avenue and intersects with South Quebec Street.

Sgt. Chris Washburn, of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, attributes traffic congestion to a number of reasons, such as cheaper gas, a better economy, more people driving more miles and the rise in population.

“Traffic is certainly an issue anywhere you drive,” Washburn said. “We look at it from as many different angles as we can to try to keep the areas as safe and traffic-free as they can be.”

But traffic in Highlands Ranch is greater than in Douglas County's other cities and towns because it is the most populated region, Cleere said.

Highlands Ranch, which is an unincorporated community, spreads over 24 square miles and is home to an estimated 95,830 people. The county’s largest municipality, Castle Rock, which encompasses about 35 square miles, has an estimated 62,400 people, according to county records. Parker, the third largest, is 20.5 square miles and has 52,410 people.

Highlands Ranch was designed to accommodate its build-out population by having wide arterial streets, such as Lucent Boulevard, and collector streets, such as Venneford Ranch Road, that are cushioned by sidewalks. Homes do not face the arterial and collector streets, a design that creates less access points for cars to drive in and out of, resulting in less delay, according to the county. The community also has meandering roads, compared to a grid system used in more urban areas such as downtown Denver.

Traffic is worse now, Cleere said, because of construction, including pavement work and the widening of C-470, a major project that began in late 2016 and will add toll lanes along the highway. It is projected to be completed in 2019.

Working to ease congestion

County traffic experts are working on ways to help alleviate the congestion.

Douglas County — along with the city of Lone Tree and the Denver Regional Council of Governments — is taking steps to ease traffic through a Signal Timing Project that will re-time several traffic corridors in northern Douglas County. The traffic light times will be adjusted to minimize stops and delays for drivers. Similar projects were implemented in Highlands Ranch in 2015 — on Highlands Ranch Parkway, South Broadway and University Boulevard — that DRCOG says resulted in less travel time, fuel consumption and emissions.

Cleere noted that several factors can affect the progression on a roadway, including signal spacing and the number of pedestrians using a crossing signal.

"We try to plan for a lot of that. There is coordination, but it's also random," Cleere said. "We are trying to get people from point A to B in a safe and efficient manner."

County traffic experts are reviewing and modeling existing data and expect the project to be implemented in late March. Five areas across Centennial, Parker, Lone Tree and Highlands Ranch will be affected, including portions of Quebec Street, Lincoln Avenue, Yosemite, County Line Road and South Peoria in Centennial. One area in Highlands Ranch in which traffic signals will be better coordinated for drivers is the stretch of University Boulevard that becomes Lincoln Avenue.

“As soon as we implement it, people should see a difference,” Cleere said.

The county is also working with the Colorado Department of Transportation to upload 15-minute snapshots of major intersections in northern Douglas County on CDOT's webpage, cotrip.org.

“COtrip is a transportation planning tool,” Cleere said. “People can navigate their lives on the road, see what is going at 3:30 p.m.”

Bradley, the resident that lives across from Highlands Ranch High School, has witnessed how quickly the community has grown, bringing with it more residents and traffic.

But she has also seen how the atmosphere on the road has changed.

"The biggest thing I see is that people aren’t paying attention," Bradley said. "They are just in their own worlds.”Jackie Bradley moved to Highlands Ranch 25 years ago when there was little development south of Highlands Ranch Parkway, and University Boulevard and County Line Road were two-lane streets.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” said Bradley, whose home backs up to Highlands Ranch High School near University Boulevard. “The biggest is that it can be gridlocked through here from 4 to 6 in the afternoon.”

Highlands Ranch, a master-planned community that broke ground in 1980, has nearly reached build-out of roughly 100,000 residents. The population growth and commercial development of remaining open spaces have also spurred a significant increase in traffic.

“Traffic is the number one complaint in every community in the Front Range,” said Duane Cleere, Douglas County’s traffic operations manager. “And Highlands Ranch is no exception.”

The surge in traffic congestion, influenced by an influx of people to the Denver metro area, is one of the state’s most critical issues, and lawmakers are seeking solutions. Recently introduced by the Democratic speaker of the House and the Republican Senate president, House Bill 1242 would seek voter approval to raise the state’s sales tax by 0.62 percent to help pay for transportation infrastructure.

The need for transportation funding reflects the growth in population. The Denver metro area — which encompasses Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson, Denver, Broomfield  and Douglas counties — was home to about 2.7 million people in 2015, an increase of roughly 250,000 residents since 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs State Demography Office.

Douglas County alone grew from 285,465 people in 2010 to 322,387 residents in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Concern about traffic congestion is apparent in a community survey conducted by the county. In 2010, 37 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that traffic congestion across the county was improving. That number reached 48 percent in a 2014 survey. The county is conducting a new survey this year.

Douglas County Commissioner Roger Partridge said improving the traffic situation is a priority for the board.

“Among our board’s shared, core priorities  – and one of our most significant annual budget commitments — is to develop and maintain a safe, accessible transportation network not only in unincorporated Douglas County, but also working in cooperation with and through our city, town, state and federal partners.”

Bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic are commonplace throughout the metro area — on Interstate 25, C-470 and high-capacity urban roads such as University Boulevard — during rush hour.

The blockage has spilled over into the suburbs, including Highlands Ranch, residents and county officials agree, creating increasing gridlock on main arteries, but also triggering a rise in automobile accidents and worsening congestion in school zones.

Longtime residents recall life in Highlands Ranch in its early years when traffic was nonexistent.

“When I moved here, there were no traffic lights and I had to go to County Line and Holly to food shop and get gas,” said Marje Marvex, who moved to the community in 1991. “I’d say it has changed immensely.”

Marilyn Bayless, who moved to Weatherstone — a neighborhood south of Wildcat Reserve Parkway — in 1999, remembers she couldn’t get pizza delivered to her home because restaurants said “it was too far.”

Now, more than 15 years later, Highlands Ranch is bustling with cars during peak travel times.

High-traffic areas in Highlands Ranch predominantly occur at major crossroads along Highlands Ranch Parkway, University Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue.

Statistics for the number of cars on the road don’t exist for all roadways and intersections. The county uses two tools to measure traffic, an average daily traffic count for the number of cars between intersections and a movement count for the number of cars turning at intersections. Those counts, which show a snapshot of traffic in Highlands Ranch, are only done for specific hours of a day, Cleere said.

A traffic count in 2008 showed the number of vehicles per day on South University Boulevard near East Crosspoint Drive — south of Highlands Ranch High School — was 38,000. That number jumped to 43,000 in 2015.

And in 2015, 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles a day traveled the stretch of University Boulevard that becomes Lincoln Avenue and intersects with South Quebec Street.

Sgt. Chris Washburn, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, attributes traffic congestion to a number of reasons, such as cheaper gas, a better economy, more people driving more miles and the rise in population.

“Traffic is certainly an issue anywhere you drive,” Washburn said. “We look at it from as many different angles as we can to try to keep the areas as safe and traffic-free as they can be.”

But traffic in Highlands Ranch is greater than in Douglas County’s other cities and towns because it is the most populated region, Cleere said.

Highlands Ranch, which is an unincorporated community, spreads over 24 square miles and is home to an estimated 95,830 people. The county’s largest municipality, Castle Rock, which encompasses about 35 square miles, has an estimated 62,400 people, according to county records. Parker, the third largest, is 20.5 square miles and has 52,410 people.

Highlands Ranch was designed to accommodate its build-out population by having wide arterial streets, such as Lucent Boulevard, and collector streets, such as Venneford Ranch Road, that are cushioned by sidewalks. Homes do not face the arterial and collector streets, a design that creates less access points for cars to drive in and out of, resulting in less delay, according to the county. The community also has meandering roads, compared to a grid system used in more urban areas such as downtown Denver.

Traffic is worse now, Cleere said, because of construction, including pavement work and the widening of C-470, a major project that began in late 2016 and will add toll lanes along the highway. It is projected to be completed in 2019.

Working to ease congestion

County traffic experts are working on ways to help alleviate the congestion.

Douglas County — along with the city of Lone Tree and the Denver Regional Council of Governments — is taking steps to ease traffic through a Signal Timing Project that will re-time several traffic corridors in northern Douglas County. The traffic light times will be adjusted to minimize stops and delays for drivers. Similar projects were implemented in Highlands Ranch in 2015 — on Highlands Ranch Parkway, South Broadway and University Boulevard — that DRCOG says resulted in less travel time, fuel consumption and emissions.

Cleere noted that several factors can affect the progression on a roadway, including signal spacing and the number of pedestrians using a crossing signal.

“We try to plan for a lot of that. There is coordination, but it’s also random,” Cleere said. “We are trying to get people from point A to B in a safe and efficient manner.”

County traffic experts are reviewing and modeling existing data and expect the project to be implemented in late March. Five areas across Centennial, Parker, Lone Tree and Highlands Ranch will be affected, including portions of Quebec Street, Lincoln Avenue, Yosemite, County Line Road and South Peoria in Centennial. One area in Highlands Ranch in which traffic signals will be better coordinated for drivers is the stretch of University Boulevard that becomes Lincoln Avenue.

“As soon as we implement it, people should see a difference,” Cleere said.

The county is also working with the Colorado Department of Transportation to upload 15-minute snapshots of major intersections in northern Douglas County on CDOT’s webpage, cotrip.org.

“COtrip is a transportation planning tool,” Cleere said. “People can navigate their lives on the road, see what is going at 3:30 p.m.”

Bradley, the resident that lives across from Highlands Ranch High School, has witnessed how quickly the community has grown, bringing with it more residents and traffic.

But she has also seen how the atmosphere on the road has changed.

“The biggest thing I see is that people aren’t paying attention,” Bradley said. “They are just in their own worlds.”

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