Traffic top of mind as Steamboat Springs community learns more about Brown Ranch

CDOT already plans to expand U.S. Highway 40 west of Steamboat, though it lacks funding

Traffic was backed up on the west side of downtown Steamboat Springs for most of the day in October 2020 as crews from the Colorado Department of Transportation restriped the road. Traffic is often congested west of town, especially in the morning and at night.
John F. Rusell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Effects the Brown Ranch will have on Steamboat Springs’ roads was top of mind for residents as officials with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority fielded questions about the development during a presentation last week.

There were numerous questions at each session about how building the 2,300-unit development west of town over the next 20 to 25 years will impact traffic that is already congested along U.S. Highway 40 — especially west of town where backups are a daily occurrence.

Housing authority Executive Director Jason Peasley said the highway west of town has been in need of expansion for years, with or without the Brown Ranch.

“There’s plans from the (Colorado) Department of Transportation and the question becomes funding — how do we fund it?” Peasley said. “Some of the investments that are considered are expanding four lanes from 13th Street all the way up to the Brown Ranch or even County Road 42.”

The cost of expansion of U.S. 40 is accounted for in the $400 million estimate for infrastructure at Brown Ranch. That figure estimates about $220 million on the property for roads, sewer and other utilities and another $180 million off the property, including upgrades to the larger power grid, a new water treatment plant and work on the highway, among other costs.

Peasley said the housing authority hopes to be able to pay for about half of that with federal, state and local grants. If able to achieve that level of grant funding, it would essentially double the local community’s contribution, Peasley said.

“How do we fund that?” Peasley asked rhetorically. “That’s a huge question mark that the community gets to grapple with this fall.”

While the Brown Ranch hasn’t yet been approved for an access onto U.S. 40 near Slate Creek, Peasley said an access at that spot is part of current planning for the roadway. He said CDOT officials have indicated getting an access at that spot isn’t a problem, though there is more work to do to figure out what that access looks like.

“We have a right to access Highway 40,” Peasley said. “We will work over the next year to do the design and approvals of that with CDOT.”

The Brown Ranch will feature four neighborhoods, each with a mix of housing options ranging from single-family homes to large-scale apartment complexes.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy photo

There are additional road connections to the Brown Ranch as well. The development’s roads are planned to link up with the currently under construction Overlook subdivision to the property’s east, and another connection is planned for Routt County Road 42 on the west, though each of these will still eventually lead traffic onto U.S. 40.

Additionally, Brown Ranch outreach coordinator Sheila Henderson said the goal of the development is to address a 1,400-unit shortage Routt County currently has, meaning people who live in the Brown Ranch are already part of the community. Future Brown Ranch residents will be required to work for an employer that is physically located in Routt County.

This current shortage also includes about 2,000 workers that live in Craig that make the trek to Steamboat on U.S. 40 twice every day.

“Those 2,000 folks coming in from Craig, if they’re living in town, there’s 100% more chance that they are going to have the opportunity to bike, take the bus to and from places they need to go,” Peasley said. “Traffic is a really big issue and we definitely want to focus on that.”

The design of the Brown Ranch itself hopes to alleviate traffic by having services concentrated on the property, Henderson said. For example, one of those planned services would be a new grocery store, which would reduce the need for people to drive across town to get their groceries.

This hopes to give the Brown Ranch the walkable qualities that parts of Steamboat like Old Town already have, Henderson said.

“We’re putting a lot of services out there so people don’t have to drive into town or to the other side of town,” Henderson said. “It’ll be self-sufficient and kind of operate on its own.”

Public transportation is another key aspect of planning at the Brown Ranch, with Steamboat’s current system being expanded to reach the development as well as currently unserved neighborhoods like Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park.

Of the four neighborhoods outlined last week, each would have a centrally located bus stop serviced by Steamboat’s transit system. How that ongoing transit service gets paid for is a significant unanswered question and is expected to be one of several major topics to iron out during talks to annex the Brown Ranch into the city over the next year.

“The cost of ongoing service at the Brown Ranch is definitely a topic that we intend to engage with the City Council on,” Peasley said, adding that a study to understand those additional costs is in progress. “We’re working collaboratively with the city on that to figure out what those costs truly are and to figure out how to pay for them.”

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