Our View: Bypass not the answer - yet


— Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tom Leeson hit the nail on the head last week when he said, "You can't pave your way out of this problem."

Leeson was, of course, referencing proposals for a highway bypass of downtown Steamboat. Those plans - as they have in previous years - are capturing the attention of residents frustrated with increasing traffic congestion in Steamboat, particularly in the downtown corridor.

While we understand those frustrations, discussions about a bypass aren't particularly meaningful until we know if it's feasible from an engineering standpoint and what the approximate cost of the highway might be. Additionally, an analysis of current Steamboat traffic patterns and habits is needed to determine whether a bypass would even solve downtown congestion.

In the meantime, we think there are more practical options for reducing congestion and improving traffic flow.

Local transportation issues made the headlines again last week when the City Council, spurred by preliminary plans from Steamboat 700 developers, made them a meeting agenda item. The proposed Steamboat 700 development west of Steamboat could include as many as 2,000 homes, and the likely impact on local roads wasn't lost on the council members.

"With west Steamboat and the anticipated growth, we've got a challenge - a huge challenge," Councilman Towny Anderson said. "We have to increase capacity, that's the bottom line."

During the City Council meeting, resident Steve Elkins proposed a bypass over Emerald Mountain. A similar bypass has been suggested by resident John Fielding.

The substantial cost of such a project and its impact on Emerald Mountain notwithstanding, we're not convinced a bypass would solve the problem it intends to alleviate - downtown congestion. There are no current studies that have examined Steamboat traffic and the habits of area motorists, who we suspect occupy the majority of vehicles traveling through downtown. We also have our doubts about the number of motorists who would use a bypass to skip downtown Steamboat - a tourist destination - while traveling along U.S. Highway 40. Steamboat doesn't have a problem with too many motorists trying to get from Kremmling to Craig; it's usually here they want to come.

There are plenty of congestion-reducing measures that could be implemented in Steamboat, and at far less cost than a bypass.

Changing the habits of motorists will do as much to abate traffic concerns as perhaps any other measure. This is an area where Steamboat can - and should - look to other mountain communities who have dealt with similar issues. In Aspen, paid street parking and a downtown parking garage have been instrumental in reducing traffic. Paid parking is a logical step for Steamboat to take, and one we believe will change the habits of local motorists but not affect visitors who come here with the intent to shop in our stores and dine in our restaurants.

Downtown employers could create incentives for employees who use public transportation or bike or walk to work. The city should push the Colorado Department of Transportation to install left-turn signals at downtown traffic lights and improve the timing sequence of those stoplights. The city also should continue to find ways to improve and bolster its transit system.

Certainly the list of traffic-reducing measures must include the widening of U.S. Highway 40 from 13th Street west to the Steamboat 700 development, if not all the way to Steamboat II and Heritage Park.

These are the kinds of measures we believe could have an immediate and lasting impact on Steamboat's increasing traffic congestion. Let serious discussion of a bypass commence when the more practical alternatives have been exhausted.


rodcarew 9 years, 7 months ago

For a change I actually agree with the Pilot editorial staff. Before any of us can make any judgement on the merits of a bypass, we need a professional traffic consultant to analyze our travel habits and then, based on the results, provide us with a range of options. At risk of yet another city funded study, this must be done ASAP!

Having said that, I think the Emerald bypass is a complete non-starter. Need to consider all options, but this one stinks. I agree we can't "pave our way" out of this and we need to make changes in our traveling habits (yes, to paid parking downtown, no to parking garage-these are contradictory goals), but we must also face the fact that many in this community - think about how many are involved in the construction industry - simply will not be able to use transit in their day to day lives and will need to continue to drive through downtown. This, in my mind lends merit to the need for the bypass to restore peace and sanity back to downtown.

But, we have to wait and see what the traffic study tell us first.


steamboatsconscience 9 years, 7 months ago

Do what they proposed for I 70 in vail , tunnel under Lincoln and have a buried bypass right under your feet


Gadfly 9 years, 7 months ago

I agree that a bypass might be one of the eventual solutions, but that we need to consider many other steps first. Several studies have shown that the downtown congestion is all us. We get into our cars on an average of six times per day and drive a mile or two. Adding capacity, as Towny Anderson wants to do, will only enable our bad habits. We must also reduce the number of vehicles and provide alternative forms of getting around. There are probably 50 things we could do to start solving our problem, and it's time to put them all on the table.


dimwitiguess 9 years, 7 months ago

"Yet?" Not ""yet?" A by-pass around Emerald won't encourage locals to take a longer, slower route to the other side of town. Most of the traffic isn't from locals, it's from Craig and Hayden and county. If you want to make a left, take four right turns and get to a traffic light going in the direction you intend. Be patient. Quit honking horns (I've heard more this week than ever).

Drive to Yampa St. or Oak St. voluntarily, but make sure you're not going to have to cross all traffic in another left hand turn from those streets.

The city needs to expand the west side to four lanes out to Steamboat II. That's where "rush" hour traffic is congested most of the time. Yeh, to the 700 development! What makes the Brown development get the prority over everyone else who has to drive the other two miles from Steamboat II and Heritage. Money and city council cronies??????

Yes, incentives to workers is one way to get them to walk or bike, but they barely get enough wages let alone the noble business folk will give them an incentive.

Parking meters???? Sure thing. How will that money be used???? You didn't tell us that, Pilot editorial staff. Yeh, now we're holding Aspen as the shining light for traffic congestion and parking meters. I think we don't want own community to look like Aspen, do we? Not the people I talk to.

Bypass?? Who cares? Pipe dream. 48,000 people by 2018 (in another article), Now THAT's a REAL dream!!!!!

Better for everyone to take a deep breath, take your blood pressure meds, and another prescription drug if needed and solve your own problems. Or you'll be looking at the Pilot and developers telling you what to do and collecting your dollar bills for parking. But then again, I'm just a dimwitiguess.


Books 9 years, 7 months ago

All of the gravel pits are west of Steamboat. Three of the four hardware stores and lumberyards are in west Steamboat. Most of the employees live in the bedroom communities west of Steamboat. Most of the jobs are on the east side around the ski area. Not surprising that there is a traffic problem. Push the growth to the west but keep all of the jobs in the east. If anyone complains about traffic, tell them to take the bus.

Those really smart people in planning at the city and county planned it this way. They even went to college to learn how to do it.


Matthew Stoddard 9 years, 7 months ago

Books- Bus doesn't exactly go as far west as the commuters. It only goes as far as Ski Town Campground. Most of the west traffic starts in Craig; builds in Hayden, and builds more with Heritage Park, Steamboat II, and Silver Spur.

That's now.

Then, there will be Marabou and Steamboat 700 to think about. Sure that will be in a couple of years, but are a person that subscibes to the "Play Catch-Up" mindset, or the "Let's Fix this in Anticipation" mindset?

That's soon.

For a simpler analogy: If you are drinking from a cup and the cup leaks, do you keep reusing that cup or do you get a new one that doesn't leak?

As far as riding the bus, a lot of people who are forced to commute are in the service industry.

One of those groups involves housekeeping staff for many hotels or property management companies. That means, a lot of these housekeepers go from 1 property to another, sometimes a mile apart or more. The city bus is not conducive to workers that need their vehicles for work purposes.


birddog 9 years, 7 months ago

Another idea would be to relocate the railroad. Use the railroad ROW as the bypass route. This would give us many options on where to start and stop the bypass and it keeps the bypass near downtown. It would be much easier to find a new railway route than a bypass route. If the bypass involves a tunnel, a tunnel for the railroad would be much smaller. The trains go from Oak Creek to Hayden without stopping. Why does the railroad need to go thru Steamboat?


retiredinss 9 years, 7 months ago

The railroad relo has had looks in the past. The coal doesn't need to come thru SS to get past Oak Creek. The logical route for the rr could be more or less direct from the mines east of Hayden to below Oak Creek.


thecondoguy1 9 years, 6 months ago

20 mile road bypass at least these large vehicles that just go through town, smoke it up and make a lot of racket...........

again, 20 mile road............


another_local 9 years, 6 months ago

Folks, you need to actually look at the proposals before you comment. The emerald mountain bypass proposed is 2/10ths of a mile longer than the stretch of US 40 it would bypass. Condidering it would also skip about a dozen stoplights and most likely run at 45 miles an hour, the time savings would be significant.

Also, putting in a road is not the same as delveloping it. Mr Orton can continue his generous approach to land ownership with no problems even if a road goes over the mountain.

We do have to do something and the bypass deserves a hard look. It will take 10 years to get it done in any case. You can not just keep your head in the sand and say we do not need to look at this "yet".


Jennifer Lowe 9 years, 6 months ago

rodcarew: There was a traffic study done several years ago when the three phase transportation plan (phase three being a bypass road) was looked at by a consulting firm from Boulder. The traffic was local. And the consultant himself said that a bypass road wouldn't have enough capacity to deal with all of the traffic from the development potential west of town (this was before Silver Spur, West End Village, etc.) and back then, the proposed bypass was twenty-mile road onto Howelson Parkway (by blasting the hillside by the Steamboat and Black Sulpher springs next to the railroad tracks) and out River Road. If a bypass does come to pass, this is by far, in my opinion, the worst possible choice as it makes Howelson unsafe to bicyclers, kids, etc., it heavily impacts residents of Brooklyn, and it damages the riparian zone around the Yampa River.


armchairqb 9 years, 6 months ago

Birddog you beat me to the punch Move the railroad.probably easier said then done How about yet another study..???? pay me I 'll tell you anything you want to here for a couple of hundred g's. If I here one more time in this town that such and such was looked at before. I think I'll scream. Most things have probably looked at before and were great ideas they just had lousy salesmen pushing for them. A great book is out there by Caro,called the Power Broker. about Robert Moses who shaped N.Y. and the roads and briges.


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