Why has there been so much morning traffic at US 40 and Elk River Road?
Construction on 13th Street and the return of the school rush hour could be to blame
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Some commuters entering Steamboat Springs from the west have seen a longer commute due to congestion between Elk River Road and downtown Steamboat.
Morning commuters have seen different levels of congestion depending on the day and when they pass through, with the line of traffic sometimes backed up as far as Snow Bowl from the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Elk River Road.
City Engineer Ben Beall said he can’t say with certainty why that’s occurring, but he suspects two events: the start of the school year and a single lane closure on 13th Street.
“We have school starting back up, so there’s definitely more of a morning rush hour, especially coming from the west side,” he said.
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The eastbound lane of 13th Street is closed as construction crews widen the street to add bike lanes and a sidewalk on a portion of the street, meaning that 13th Street can’t be used as a parallel route to downtown Steamboat.
Morning traffic could get even worse if the closure is expanded to a full closure of 13th Street, which will be the case if people enter the one-way lane in the wrong direction,” Beall said.
“We have had some folks come the wrong way through that closure and not follow those signs,” he said. “We are doing our best to keep that open so that at least half of that traffic can make its way on 13th Street. That does present a safety issue if people are not following those traffic closure signs. We want to do everything that we can to not have to close that both ways, because that would just exacerbate that situation even more, in requiring everybody who wants to get to the 13th Street area to go over the James Brown Bridge.
“We just implore everybody to please follow those signs,” he continued. “We know it’s an inconvenience. We ask for patience, but if people are going to disobey those signs, we’ve got to make decisions to prevent dangerous situations and maintain a safe work zone and a safe traffic control zone. If everybody can please just follow the signs, we will all be better off in the long run.”
Thirteenth Street runs parallel to U.S. 40 and typically offers an alternative route to get to downtown Steamboat from the west side of town. This also means that residents of neighborhoods along 13th Street headed to downtown must drive west on 13th and use the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge to connect to Lincoln Avenue eastbound.
Beall said the city waited to begin construction on 13th Street until late summer because traffic volumes are lower, though it is still an inconvenience.
He suggested commuters aim to leave earlier or later to dodge the traffic if their schedule allows for it.
“We appreciate people’s patience while we do that work on 13th Street,” he said. “It also shows us how important 13th Street is, and how this project to improve 13th Street will hopefully recognize that street for the collector (road) status that it really has. It will be a few more weeks, if not a month and a half of various closures of 13 Street.”
Beall said the congestion is a real-life example of how reliant we are on U.S. Highway 40 and how “we do rely on these roadways that are parallel to one another for traffic to flow.”
“Transportation systems work as a system, not as a specific intersection or a specific roadway,” Beall said. “It’s all interconnected, so we’re seeing that the results of this construction project, showing us how important the whole system is.”
The traffic signals at Elk River Road and Lincoln Avenue are designed to eventually accommodate Lincoln Avenue as a four-lane road from the west side of Steamboat to downtown.
“Mindful of that future four-lane and the need to have two lanes on the far side of that intersection to take the double left turns off of Elk River (Road) onto U.S. 40, that was installed in that arrangement,” Beall said. “Now, unfortunately, due to the lack of funds to be able to build that four-lane section, currently it does narrow back down to one lane in the eastbound direction right by Cook Chevrolet.”
Beall said the city is currently designing preliminary options for what that four-lane road could look like, though there currently isn’t state or city funding for construction of the project.
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