$2 million required to improve risky intersection near Molina

A seldom-used intersection is getting a $2 million fix from Mesa County, but some residents argue the county is unnecessarily taking their land and wasting taxpayer dollars.

The intersection of KK and 54.7 roads is on the west side of Mormon Mesa, south of Colorado Highway 330, high above the tiny community of Molina, which is nestled in the foothills about 40 miles east of Grand Junction.

Roads leading to and from this three-way intersection offer drivers blind spots, tight turns, numerous warning signs and steep grades. Signs warn of a 25 mph speed limit, a school bus turnaround and an upcoming stop sign.

The intersection used by locals to access their homes and by energy companies to reach gas fields is a tough customer, but the Mesa County Road and Bridge Department has a calming prescription.

During a recent community meeting, county staff members estimated it will cost $1.7 million — at least $500,000 of the funding will come from an Energy and Mineral Impact grant received in 2008 — to reroute the road and improve safety at the intersection, according to residents in attendance. The price does not include land acquisition. But a 2009 county report detailing road projects in the eastern half of the county listed the estimated price tag at $2.5 million.

The county’s plan is to close 54.7 Road where it breaks free of KK Road and rapidly descends. A new road would be built a few hundred feet further to the north and would allow for a much gentler descent, but it would require heavy walls to stabilize the steep slope. The county would then widen the former intersection and remove a stop sign. The plan would move at least four gas lines, cutting trees and cutting through at least four people’s property.

The intersection’s nearest neighbors are opposed.

“This thing is the stupidest project I have ever seen,” said Russ Herman, who stands to have two acres of his land divided. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

The intersection has been on the minds of county officials for years. Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca toured the area with Eric Bruton, director of the Mesa County Road and Bridge Department, and concluded it was one of the county’s intersections most in need of safety improvement.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Acquafresca said. “Given all the energy activity up there, that’s kind of what has generated the need to improve the safety.”

Many residents of Molina agree the road needs to be re-engineered.

“It is a very dangerous intersection. We are certainly in favor of the change that has been suggested,” said Peggy Currier, who was speaking for herself and husband, Wallace Currier. “There has been a number of close calls there.”

Mike Meininger, Mesa County’s director of engineering, said the county had several meetings with residents.

“It’s a compromise on all parties,” Meininger said.

But in 26 years of living on that corner, Herman said he has never seen an accident there. He also disputed the amount of energy traffic using the road.

“We’ve had three wells drilled in three years,” he said.

He sold the house in 2004 to Pete and Lorna Gruendler and moved about a mile away. In the past five years, Lorna Gruendler said, she hasn’t seen an accident at the intersection either.

“The intersection doesn’t meet any kind of standard, but the people who live there are aware and approach it with caution,” Meininger said.

Gruendler said she has seen deer, family pets and birds struck by passing vehicles. She said she is concerned that if the road is improved, vehicles will travel even faster.  In addition, the county plans to pipe the creek that runs in front of her home, possibly deterring wildlife from visiting and creating runoff that could erode structures. She also stands to lose trees and portions of her front yard.

Meininger said the county compromised with the Gruendlers by deciding to buy new right of way on the opposite side of their property and take as little of their land as possible.

Gruendler and Herman suggest the county bypass the intersection and build a road at the base of the mesa along Cottonwood Creek or simply widen the existing intersection of KK and 54.7 roads, or just leave well enough alone.

Meininger said the county looked at all those options, and none was feasible.

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