13th Street extension causing tension

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The City Council's decision Tuesday to remove plans for an extension from Yampa Street to 13th Street from the community area plan update was a relief for those at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

While the City Council's vote to remove the controversial option from the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan Update was applauded by those working to expand the library, Routt County Planner John Eastman said not allowing for an extension could create added congestion in years to come. The Routt County Board of Commissioners and Routt County Regional Planning Commission have not specifically addressed the extension during discussions on the adoption draft.

"It is a complex issue. To sum it up from the planning perspective, it is the No. 1 issue facing mobility in the Steamboat area," Eastman said.

The potential road has serious implications for the library's plan to expand onto land it purchased in the block between 12th and 13th streets and Yampa Street and Lincoln Avenue, said Library Director Chris Painter. The road, which would run through the site beside the Yampa River, could make the land unsuitable for an expansion, she said.

"We felt honestly that we were tied as far as moving forward with the plan," Painter said.

In October 2002, the East Routt Library Board presented to city its plans for a 24,000-square-foot library where the city's community center stands and Lockhart Auction and Realty Co. stood. Last spring, the district purchased the 0.234-acre Lockhart property along Lincoln Avenue.

The district "is very committed" to that piece of land, Painter said. A road through the site would take away land used for parking and the library's plans for restoring Soda Creek and enhancing Little Toots Parks with reading areas.

But Eastman said the extension is the most realistic way to relieve the congestion that will surely occur at the 13th Street stoplight as growth continues west of town.

Unlike the east side of town, where Lincoln Avenue, Hilltop Parkway and River Road all provide access to downtown, Lincoln Avenue through 13th Street is the only western entrance.

A 1998 study came up with 15 alternatives, including building a bypass through Howelsen Hill, to relieve the 13th Street bottleneck, Eastman said. The Yampa Street extension was the best alternative, but it was an issue a community plan working group "struggled with mightily," Eastman said.

In the end, the working group decided not to recommend the extension, but the plan's transportation consultants added it back into the document, Eastman said.

"Unless we get adequate capacity through the bottleneck, we are going to end up with a horrible, horrible traffic jam at 13th Street," Eastman said.

"From a planning perspective, this looks to be the best option."

At a November meeting between the City Council and county commissioners, planners and consultants warned of the alternatives if the extension was not an option. City Planner Tom Leeson said that, even if more people became reliant on multi-modal transit, congestion is still forecast along U.S. Highway 40 between 13th Street and Routt County Road 129.

"Removing this as an option requires us to look at (things) we don't even want to consider now," Leeson said. "Like widening the highway to six lanes."

Eastman said the extension likely would take up little more asphalt than the existing parking lot. He also said it could mean the possibility of closing the road between the extension and the 13th Street stop light, which could then be used as a park.

The 24-foot-wide road would not have the impact of an arterial road and would act mainly as a connector road to ease congestion on 13th Street, Eastman said.

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