Friday, February 1, 2008

Road Access & Congestion - West of Steamboat

Access plan sparks interest
Future U.S. 40 access proposal draws questions at open house
By Brandon Gee (Contact) Steambaot Pilot/ TODAY
Friday, February 1, 2008

Steamboat Springs — Local business owners questioned a future traffic plan for U.S. Highway 40 in west Steamboat Springs during a crowded open house Thursday in Centennial Hall. Others who attended the event were happy with the plan, claiming something has to be done to relieve congestion and danger along the highway.

In their second public open house, consultants from Stolfus & Associates presented a draft of their West Steamboat Springs U.S. 40 Access Plan. The plan recommends several techniques for improving travel on U.S. 40, such as eliminating some of the current accesses to the highway and removing turning vehicles from through traffic lanes.

“Our concern is that they show both of our access points are set to be blocked,” said Ulrich Salzgeber, who owns the Routt 66 gas station in west Steamboat with Marty Waldron. “Blocking these two access points is seriously going to decrease the value of our property. … They need to come up with other solutions.”

Salzgeber and Waldron lease the majority of their building to Alpine Taxi. Waldron noted that rerouting a fleet of 100 taxis, shuttles and vans to side streets could be quite costly and difficult. The two men, like other business owners who attended the open house, are not swayed by officials’ claims that access closures will be overcompensated by more efficient traffic flows that will benefit business.

“Ease is everything,” said Steamboat Rentals owner Jack Horner, who believes his direct access to U.S. 40 is crucial to his business. “This is my livelihood. I don’t have a solution to it … but this will cost me most of my drive-in customers from the east.”

Dan Roussin, an access manager with the Colorado Department of Transportation, tried to calm such concerns by stressing the long-term nature of the plan.

“I understand it’s not perfect for everybody,” Roussin said. “What we want to do is plan the whole thing and do the best we can.”

Cost question

Engineering consultant Michelle Hansen said comments made Thursday would be incorporated into a final draft of the plan. She was happy with the large turnout.

“I’m pleased we’re getting a lot more property owners than last time,” she said. “It’s better to get them involved early.”

The access management plan costs $100,000. An accompanying capacity analysis looking at the potential widening of U.S. 40 to four lanes costs $50,000. Both plans deal with the U.S. 40 corridor from 13th Street to just past the Steamboat II subdivision, which is outside city limits. CDOT is partnering with the city in its efforts and has contributed $50,000.

“The ultimate goal is the city, county and CDOT will sign an intergovernmental agreement adopting this plan,” Hansen said.

City Engineer Janet Hruby said no funding has been identified for U.S. 40 improvements, but both studies will aid the city in getting such improvements prioritized — and maybe paid for — by CDOT. Hruby said developers might also be required to take care of their portion of the highway as sites are redeveloped.

“This is a huge tool not only for city staff but for developers,” Hruby said. “It’s a lot easier when you have a plan like this so they know up front.”

Any potential funding from CDOT faces the difficulty of competing with many other projects for the department’s ever-thinning resources. A report released Wednesday by Gov. Bill Ritter’s Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel says Colorado’s transportation funding is in a “quiet crisis” and desperate for a bigger statewide investment.

George Krawzoff, the city’s outgoing transportation director and a recent appointee to the Colorado Transportation Commission, said the problem is compounded by the fact that the construction price index is increasing more than the overall consumer price index.

“Overall, CDOT has a very difficult time funding road expansions,” Krawzoff said. “We’ve put everything in place to make progress on this, but the costs to make any improvements are huge.”

— To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail