Keeping it inside invisible lines

Weather wears Lincoln lane stripes, leaving drivers guessing

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— The bad news is snowplows, studded tires and chains have, once again, made the traffic stripes on Lincoln Avenue disappear.

The even worse news is that consistent 50-degree temperatures and dry weather are needed before the lines can be repainted, leaving Steamboat Springs drivers to guess where their lanes end and the next ones begin.

"I've been here 27 years, and this is one of those unusual years when you get so much snow that it affects a lot of things," said Doug Marsh, Steamboat's street superintendent.

Among the frustrations is getting stuck behind a driver who is afraid to use the invisible center turn lane.

As the director of operations for Alpine Taxi, Bobby O'Toole has a good sense of what his drivers are dealing with.

"I think there is a problem, one, with people who are not familiar with the road; two, who aren't familiar with the conditions; and three, people who are swiveling their heads, looking everywhere but where they are going," O'Toole said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is responsible for painting the stripes. The problem is the paint cannot be applied until the weather gets warmer and drier and the streets can be swept and cleaned.

"They are very aware that Steamboat and others have a problem with the fading striping each winter," CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said. "They will get to Steamboat as soon as they can because they know that's a priority."

The city has researched different types of materials to lengthen the life of traffic markings. Plastic thermal markers could be purchased for a cost that is five to six times the cost of paint, city officials say. The plastic stripes would last five years in a city with a mild climate.

Paint is the best option for Steamboat's extreme winters, Marsh said.

"As long as people drive with studded tires and chains, they are going to rip (the plastic stripes) up," Marsh said.

Shanks said CDOT would look into the costs of different materials. A striping material could be used that would last as many as three winters in this climate, she said. The material is about eight times more expensive than paint.

The lack of street markings can be dangerous for pedestrians and motorists.

"There are a lot of pedestrians and a lot of cars, and I think we have had a lot of close calls," Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said.

Rae recommends that drivers be careful.

"The pedestrians have the right-of-way downtown in the marked crosswalks and the unmarked crosswalks," Rae said.

-- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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