Controversy over a left turn in Montezuma County

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Commissioners mull plea to end left-turn ban at Lebanon Road junction


Jay Balfour, a resident of the Lebanon Estates Subdivision, speaks during a public hearing July 1 at the subdivision’s entrance onto Lebanon Road while (from left) Commissioner Steve Chappell, county attorney John Baxter and Commissioner Keenan Ertel look on. Photo by Gail Binkly

More than 30 people stood and sweated under the afternoon sun July 1 as the Montezuma County commissioners held their first ever on-site public hearing, at a controversial intersection on Lebanon (25) Road.

Equipped with a public-address system, a recording device, and a cooler full of bottled water, the board listened to a plea from some homeowners to change a traffic restriction in the 19-lot Lebanon Estates subdivision.

That restriction, which is part of the subdivision’s plat, currently prohibits drivers from turning left onto the busy Lebanon Road from the northern end of the loop road, N.8, that serves the subdivision.

The restriction was adopted as a requirement of the development’s approval by the county commissioners in 2006 after neighbors and an engineer hired by the county voiced concerns about the safety of the junction. They said a hill and curve make the sight distance too short to see vehicles on Lebanon Road traveling toward the intersection, particularly since traffic often exceeds the posted limit of 40 mph.

People exiting the subdivision currently have the option of turning right onto Lebanon Road from the northern end of the loop (and making a U-turn somewhere down the road if they want), or leaving the subdivision at the southern end of N.8 a fraction of a mile away, which also opens onto Lebanon Road.

But Dave Hansen, president of the Lebanon Estates homeowners association, told the commissioners that at the HOA’s annual meeting June 1, those present decided the left-turn ban did not make sense. He asked the commissioners to “make this a normal intersection.”

But the board tabled a decision on the question. Commissioner Keenan Ertel said the board’s attorney, John Baxter, said the proposal needed support from every lot owner in the subdivision before it should be considered.

The county’s land-use code contains a provision requiring the consent of all owners in a subdivision before anything can be changed in the subdivision’s plat, and the traffic restriction is part of Lebanon Estates’ plat, explained Commission Chair Steve Chappell.

Hansen promised to send petitions to every owner seeking their approval, but said he couldn’t provide that today.

The board decided to continue with the public hearing nonetheless, taking comments from a number of locals who spoke both for and against the left-turn ban.

Jennifer Preston, who lives on Lebanon Road across from the subdivision, said at the time the subdivision was being considered, more than 300 people had signed a petition expressing concern about the traffic hazards it would pose, particularly related to the northern access. She said a 2007 study found nearly 1,000 vehicles a day traveled Lebanon Road. A barricade put up by the developers as a condition of the subdivision’s approval was just “parking-lot bumpers” and had since been removed altogether, she said.

But Mike Lowry of Lebanon Road said there had been no accidents that he knew of at the intersection and the barricade had been removed because it interfered with snow plows.

Alan Carol of Lebanon Road suggested a new traffic study might be helpful. He said he didn’t understand why the subdivision’s residents couldn’t simply use the other exit route.

“It takes 45 seconds to drive to the other end of the subdivision at the speed limit, so I’m a little bit baffled that the people who moved into the subdivision with the restrictions placed on their access when they moved in are now finding 45 seconds too much,” he said.

However, developer Jim Candelaria said traffic studies are designed to be good for 20 years.

Jackie Randall of Road P said the engineer who did a study for the county in 2006 found that the intersection was highly dangerous and recommended it be closed or gated. Likewise, the State Patrol sent a letter in 2007 recommended that the north entrance be used for emergency access only, she said.

Jeff Woods of Road P said he rides his motorcycle along Lebanon Road several times a day and is skeptical that drivers turning left from the loop road can see him in time.

“To turn left out of here is ridiculous,” he said, adding that he knew people who had had narrow misses with vehicles turning left from the northern access.

But others said the intersection is no more dangerous than many others along the narrow road. Corbin Claxton, a sheriff ’s deputy who lives at the intersection, said, “Anybody who stops at the stop sign [at the entrance onto Lebanon Road] and actually stops will know if there’s no cars coming down the road.”

And Jay Balfour, a resident of the subdivision, said the real problem is people not obeying the speed limit.

A number of residents echoed that concern and urged the commissioners to make sure there was better enforcement, but the board said that is up to the sheriff ’s office.

After the hearing ended, Ertel said there were a number of issues for the board to consider. He said there are indeed many other dangerous intersections on Lebanon Road, including one with the industrial-park road further to the south. He said Sheriff Dennis Spruell had told the board there is no particular problem with the intersection at N.8.

Chappell said the board will wait until it receives signatures from all the lot owners in the subdivision before taking the matter up again.

“Somebody’s not going to be happy with this” no matter what the board decides, Commissioner Larry Don Suckla predicted as the crowd dispersed.

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From July 2013.