Emergency responders making plans as traffic ties up town | SteamboatToday.com

Emergency responders making plans as traffic ties up town

Emergency responders work with construction crews to negotiate vehicle congestion

Zach Fridell

Vehicles clog the westbound lane of U.S. Highway 40 during Tuesday's after-work rush. Work on U.S. 40 has tied up traffic, causing delays for emergency responders and everyone else in town.

— With traffic backed up for blocks during rush hour near the 13th Street construction zone this week, Routt County emergency responders quickly realized they need a plan to get through the traffic tangle.

Mel Stewart, acting fire chief for Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, said he is talking with construction coordinators to get continuous updates and move emergency workers through the traffic as quickly as possible.

“I’ve driven through there twice today on routine errands and it’s actually not bad during the day,” he said Wednesday. “Our concern, which I think everybody’s kind of concerned about, is between 4 and 6 (p.m.) when it’s time to go home.”

Initial reports from the Colorado Department of Transportation stated that delays of about 10 minutes could be expected, but on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, those delays lasted much longer.

CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said that construction crews worked Wednesday to improve traffic flow and by Wednesday evening, the traffic flow was changed. Both directions of travel initially were reduced to one lane, but Shanks said crews on Wednesday reopened westbound lanes and a left-turn lane onto 13th Street.

“That should help a lot, especially now that motorists can turn left at that signal onto 13th Street,” she said.

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Eastbound traffic still will be reduced to one lane as crews work between 12th and 13th streets, but Shanks said crews probably will move to Ninth Street by Thursday.

Construction will continue along the south side of Lincoln Avenue, moving east down the street as crews work on utilities, the road surface and sidewalks.

Once workers reach Third Street, they will switch to the north side of the street and work back in the opposite direction, to the west.

Shanks said crew members working on U.S. 40 will be in contact with emergency workers as the project moves from block to block.

Stewart said Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue has not yet had any calls that necessitated driving through the construction area during rush hour.

“One of the main areas we’re concerned about is the interchange at 13th Street because there’s just not anywhere for people to go,” he said.

Routt County Communications Director JP Harris said he also has talked with Stewart and hopes to get a plan in place to give dispatchers a better idea of how to route responders to avoid traffic.

“It’s definitely a good idea to have a plan, and we will, it’s just a matter of getting the agencies together to discuss it,” he said.

Local project spokeswoman Jody Patten said construction workers will help the emergency vehicles move through construction sites, and construction teams will give dispatchers daily updates on road closures.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Sgt. Dale Coyner said police officers will have to be very careful driving through the construction zone on emergency calls.

“We just have to play it very smart,” he said. “We have to be very careful, very diligent and if we need to get somewhere quickly, it’s going to be full-on lights and sirens.”

Coyner said the officers have been cautioned to use the appropriate amount of speed and that officers will be using the center lanes, shoulders of the roads and any other way to avoid the traffic in the area.

“It will come, and it will happen,” he said. “We will just have to fall back on our training and slow down. We can’t do any good to anybody if we don’t get there safely.”

Routt County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ken Klinger said that his office has not yet experienced any delays on emergency calls, “but it’s coming. I’m sure of that.”

Learn more

For more information and updates about the U.S. 40 reconstruction project, visit the Colorado Department of Transportation’s project Web site.

CDOT also will hold a public information meeting from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Centennial Hall to answer questions and field comments from the public.