Boulder staff in ongoing talks with CDOT over flood mitigation plan for CU South parcel

Progress on a flood mitigation plan for South Boulder Creek is still awaiting a commitment from the Colorado Department of Transportation to construct a floodwall crucial to the project.

The work is planned for a parcel known as University of Colorado South — 308 acres of land CU is moving to annex into the city. CU has given 80 acres to Boulder for flood mitigation work, keeping less than half the total acreage for building.

Last month, Boulder City Council directed staff to move forward with the preliminary engineering for the “Original Variant 1 500-year concept,” which calls for the construction of a floodwall in the U.S. 36 right-of-way. Council also directed staff to pursue written documentation confirming CDOT‘s commitment to building the floodwall.

That has not yet happened, senior project manager Molly Scarbrough told council during a briefing Tuesday, but talks are ongoing.

During the latest meeting between city and CDOT staff, she said CDOT expressed a desire for assurances it could continue unrestricted operation and maintenance of U.S. 36 within its right-of-way, which means the right-of-way line would need to move.

“At the meeting, there was some willingness to consider CDOT acquisition of right-of-way to address this issue,” Scarbrough said.

The potentially more challenging issue, she said, is a CDOT build-out concept that includes moving the right-of-way line south onto both University of Colorado South and Open Space and Mountain Parks properties to accommodate additional lanes, which could have serious implications for the design and location of flood mitigation project structures — though it‘s not at a breaking point yet.

“CDOT and city staff verbally agreed as a next step to evaluate the engineering and legal details of the project and to collaboratively look for opportunities to meet both the city‘s and CDOT‘s long-term interests,” Scarbrough said. “This is a positive step in the right direction.”

Once city staff get their hands on CDOT‘s build-out drawings, they will overlay them with their own concept plan and host workshops to understand how they might move forward. In addition to flood mitigation staff, Open Space and Mountain Parks and city transportation staff will be involved in the workshops with CDOT.

“Just as people are paying attention to this at all levels of the city, it‘s my understanding that people are paying attention to this at all levels at CDOT as well,” she said.

Douglas Sullivan, principal engineer for utilities, also laid out a tentative timeline for steps in the project.

Council members asked questions and expressed concerns, namely about the talks with CDOT.

“I think the biggest (issue) for us right now is the uncertainty brought about by CDOT and their approach to this,” Councilman Sam Weaver said.

He asked whether the city had communicated the upsides for CDOT, because a flood-control structure would be protecting the roadway.

“The city has tried to identify the positive accolades associated with the fact that we are funding this project and that there is an overall benefit to CDOT from the standpoint of Highway 157 and 36,” Sullivan said. “They have heard what we have to say. I think on some level they might have been concerned about a precedent about revisiting state highways across the state as a function of flood issues.”

Council members indicated they would be interested in more frequent briefings, which occur before the start of regular meetings and for which attendance is voluntary. During the regular meeting, they also discussed a motion to approve the CU South Process Subcommittee Charter. Councilmembers Cindy Carlisle and Bob Yates were previously selected to serve on the subcommittee for the “diversity of opinions.”

Mayor Suzanne Jones and others made clear the committee is for process, not policy.

“The purpose of the CU South Process Subcommittee is to monitor and provide input to staff on public engagement throughout the annexation and flood mitigation projects,” according to a staff memo to council. “Discussion of policy issues, annexation terms or flood mitigation design or funding will not be part of this subcommittee‘s purpose. Deliberations and decisions on the annexation agreement and project funding are reserved for the full council.”

Exactly what the university will construct on the CU South parcel is to be determined; CU is conducting a master plan update that won‘t wrap until 2021, and even then, plans won‘t be known, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Relations Frances Draper told council in October.

The predominant use likely will be housing.

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