Study projects big increase in US 40 traffic |

Study projects big increase in US 40 traffic

Findings estimate cars will nearly double on highway by 2035

Brandon Gee

Traffic backs up from 13th Street along U.S. Highway 40 during construction last week. Although several improvements to U.S. 40 would accompany the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation, the 13th Street bottleneck is left relatively unaddressed.

— The 13th Street bottleneck at the west entrance to downtown Steamboat Springs is left relatively unaddressed in required traffic improvements that would accompany the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation.

Some argue that because the bottleneck is a community problem that has been neglected for decades, it shouldn’t be laid at the feet of one developer. Others contend that it would be irresponsible for the city to approve the development without first solving the problem.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t deal with that soon,” Steamboat Springs City Councilman Steve Ivancie said Tuesday.

Steamboat 700 proposes 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space on 487 acres just west of city limits. A National Environmental Protection Act study of U.S. Highway 40 from downtown to Steamboat II has identified several improvements to the highway that would accompany the development in phases, if City Council agrees to annex the development at a meeting Oct. 13.

Those improvements include a widening of U.S. 40 to four lanes, intersection upgrades, additional transit routes and more accommodation for cyclists and pedestrians. The improvements would actually put more pressure on 13th Street and reduce its level of service, a report released by the city Thursday shows.

The intersection of 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue, as U.S. 40 is known through the city, is left on a list of “contingent capital items” for which Steamboat 700 would pay 25 percent of the cost, if and when a solution is identified and Steamboat 700 reaches 800 dwelling units.

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“Essentially (council’s) take on it was that while Steamboat 700 will certainly increase traffic on that location : the problem exists today, it’s a larger community problem, and it’s not appropriate to put 100 percent of the cost on Steamboat 700,” city Planning Services Manager John Eastman said.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, resident Maryann Wall said that was an unacceptable compromise.

“This bottleneck problem has been kicked down the road forever,” Wall said. “My concern is that this problem has not been adequately addressed.”

Resident Bud Romberg countered that if the city insists on dropping the 13th Street bottleneck problem on the laps of Steamboat 700, it risks losing a partner to help pay for all the other needed improvements to the highway and the goals of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.

“Here you’ve got somebody who is going to deal with what the west Steamboat plan has asked for,” Romberg said. “If we don’t take the opportunity now, we may never have the opportunity again.”

Solutions for bypassing downtown traffic congestion have been considered since as early as the 1960s, according to reports. City officials have always chosen a no-action alternative over unsavory options that could have a detrimental effect on the character of Old Town or disturb valued open space and parks.

The city’s most recent transportation and mobility analysis suggests options such as extending Oak Street west and then south around Iron Spring Park to connect with the intersection of 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue. Another proposal is to widen Lincoln Avenue to six lanes between 13th Street and 12th Street.

Eastman said the no-action approach has been appropriate thus far because the city’s true traffic problem is at U.S. 40 and Elk River Road.

“It’s not actually where things back up right now,” Eastman said about 13th Street. “The bottleneck doesn’t actually exist yet.”

With the proposed improvements to U.S. 40, however, the Elk River Road intersection would be improved and the major congestion issues would shift east to 13th Street. Intersections are given level-of-service ratings from A to F. A traffic technical memorandum for the NEPA study released Thursday shows that although proposed improvements upgrade most U.S. 40 intersections in western Steamboat to ratings of A or B, 13th Street degrades from B to E, or nearly failing.

“E is a very congested condition,” Eastman said. “All of the community plans say that we should be addressing and adding some additional capacity to the bottleneck after you increase to four lanes. : “I think the emphasis is just as much about emergency services as anything.”

By the numbers

Average daily trips on U.S. 40:

Location – Now – 2035*

Brandon Circle – 13,874 – 25,111

Sleepy Bear – 14,340 – 25,956

Elk River Road – 20,966 – 37,949

13th Street – 31,282 – 45,359

* Projection

Source: U.S. Highway 40 NEPA study

On the ‘Net

Visit http://www.steamboatpilo… for an in-depth guide to Steamboat 700 including past stories, statistics and document downloads.