Traffic concerns grow

Emerald Mountain bypass option gaining steam

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Steve Elkins describes the route included in his proposal for a new bypass road to help alleviate traffic issues in downtown Steamboat Springs on Wednesday afternoon.

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Local resident Steve Elkins uses a map to illustrate the route included in his proposal for a new bypass road to help alleviate traffic issues throughout downtown Steamboat Springs on Wednesday afternoon.

— John Fielding never meant to become famous - or infamous - by nature of his proposal for a bypass over Howelsen Hill.

"I've always kept a really low profile in this town," Fielding said, "and I fear that's over."

When Fielding submitted his suggested route to the city, he intended to do so anonymously. But one way or another, it has become known as "the Fielding proposal." His success at maintaining a low profile up to now is evidenced by the fact that one of the most common questions his proposal has raised is, "Who is John Fielding?"

Fielding is a design consultant and 1970s graduate of The Lowell Whiteman School who moved back to Steamboat Springs from central Utah in 2001 - because of the traffic. While admitting to spending hundreds of hours developing his proposal throughout the years, Fielding described the effort as "not substantial."

"It's just making a contribution to the community," he said.

Fielding's proposal was among several discussed at the Steamboat Springs City Council meeting Wednesday. No further discussions have yet been scheduled.

While the Fielding proposal is more or the less the same as the over-Howelsen-Hill options that have been kicked around for four decades, there are indications the idea may be gaining steam. In addition to the city, Fielding has presented his idea to Main Street Steamboat Springs, State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, the consultants behind a proposed world-class Nordic center at Howelsen Hill and others.

Taylor, who says he has been calling for a bypass for the past 30 years, said the Fielding proposal "probably makes the most sense of any I've seen in 30 years."

Private minds

Fielding isn't the only private person to step up to the plate with a proposed solution to Steamboat's traffic woes. Steve Elkins, a Prudential Realtor and former Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. engineer, has drawn up an option that is mostly the same as Fielding's, except it doesn't include a tunnel and it reconnects to U.S. Highway 40 at Mount Werner Road, rather than at Pine Grove Road.

Elkins said his father, as mayor of Steamboat in the 1960s, had a similar idea. Elkins said he was behind the design and construction of Steamboat Boulevard, Hilltop Parkway and a reconstruction of Mount Werner Road. Elkins, who claims he "has an eye for seeing stuff before it's there," said his motivation for drawing up the proposal is similar to Fielding's.

"I think there's a real problem," Elkins said. "It's irresponsible if they don't do something."

Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said she is happy to see people coming to the city on their own time to suggest solutions to a community problem. In this case, however, she's not sure if the proposals are different enough from similar ideas that have been suggested, and rejected, in the past.

"I think it's great that people are interested and looking for solutions because maybe they will chance upon something we haven't thought of," DuBord said. "This, however, is something we've looked at before."

Fielding, who said ideas are his stock and trade, said he hopes more people start working on solutions and believes that if enough people do, they'll come up with something that works.

"This is by no means what ought to be considered the last and best word on the subject," Fielding said.

Pros and cons

"You can't pave your way out of this issue," said Lyman Orton, who owns 1,200 acres above Howelsen Hill. "If building roads worked, Los Angeles would have solved its problem. My fear is people look at those things as a silver bullet."

Orton believes a road over Howelsen Hill would destroy something essential to Steamboat's character. He denies claims that he just doesn't want it near his land, noting that he leaves his land open to the public for anything except motorized access.

"I allow people to use it," Orton said. "And I'll tell you, people do. I don't even think it's my land. I'm just a steward of the land. I'm trying to speak to a higher calling than just a landowner."

Both Elkins and Fielding dislike the term bypass for their road proposals, preferring terms such as "reliever" or "parkway."

"I think when people think of bypass, they're thinking of I-70," Elkins said.

The two claim the road would be a benefit, not a detriment, to the existing open space on Emerald Mountain because it would allow more people to access it.

"There's really no way to get there unless you're a jock," Elkins said, noting that the bypass wouldn't attract development because it is zoned for open space. "The beauty is there's nothing there for it to access except parkland."

Orton, however, challenged the notion that everything needs to be accessed by an automobile.

"It's a deep refreshment for the soul when you go up there," Orton said. "You won't have that sense of nature. You'll have a sense of noise."

Fielding said the road would provide relief to already congested parking at the base of Howelsen Hill, especially if the city moves forward with a proposed world-class Nordic center at Howelsen Hill.

"This needs to be as much about improving our access to recreational purposes as getting around our traffic problems," Fielding said. "We can build this to be a shining example of how we can build a traffic corridor."

Jonathan Wiesel, who, with his partner John Frado, did a feasibility study of the Nordic center for the city, said the road could solve some of the problems encountered in their study, such as how to get novice skiers up to the easier terrain above Howelsen Hill. On the other hand, Wiesel said the audio and visual effects a road might have could be a detriment to the center.

"It would probably take care of some of the parking and access issues," Wiesel said. "We haven't really reached any conclusions, but it could be helpful, and it could also cause some concerns."

Is it possible?

In the end, both Fielding and Elkins admit that their roads aren't perfect and would face significant hurdles, but in their minds that doesn't change the fact that "something needs to be done."

There are no concrete cost estimates for how much such a road would cost, but city officials said it likely would be in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions. DuBord noted there also would be difficulties when it comes to right-of-way acquisition.

"This isn't property that we own," DuBord said.

Difficulties aside, officials say the road is possible from an engineering standpoint.

"I'm sure they're doable," Transportation Director George Krawzoff said. "I don't think technology is an issue because enough money cures technology. But the social and aesthetic issues are huge."

Fielding and Elkins said they chose their routes because, while they would have some negative effects, those effects would be minimized.

"The truth is, there's no good place for a highway," Fielding said. "There's never a good place for a highway. My alignment I picked mostly because of its minimal impact to businesses and residences. Of course, if we want to build a road, we build it regardless of what's in the way. It's just that it's a shame that we have to tear down a building."

Elkins said other options could destroy the nature of downtown.

"Anything you do downtown, you start changing the nature of downtown," Elkins said. "You have to be more open-minded about this. We're doing this to allow people to have a more enjoyable lifestyle."

Elkins added that reconstructing existing roads would involve the costly realignment of utilities, whereas a road over Howelsen Hill would be a "clean-cut, dirt-moving project."

Something must be done

"This is as clearly a blighted area as we've seen," Fielding said, referring to downtown Steamboat. "We are blighted by traffic. We're really a town of 50,000 on a busy weekend, and there's no reason in the world to think we're not going to continue to grow."

While solving the traffic issue in Steamboat presents various disagreements, one thing everyone seems to agree on is the problem does need to be solved.

"I sure know Steamboat needs something to relieve that downtown congestion," Wiesel said. "We don't live there, but we spent three weeks there this summer and, gosh, it's tough. It's not pretty."

Taylor said traffic has gotten to the point that it is no longer enjoyable to shop or dine outside downtown due to the noise and smell of traffic. Tracy Barnett, executive director of Main Street Steamboat Springs, said merchants are starting to say the traffic is a detriment to their businesses.

"If there's gridlock now, what's it going to be in 10 years," Sen. Taylor said. "I think we need to look to the future and plan ahead."

Orton believes public transit is the answer, in addition to finding ways to get people out of their cars, either through paid parking or other measures. City officials say they haven't given up on multi-modal solutions, and Krawzoff noted the city spends $3 million a year on Steamboat Springs Transit. The problem, Krawzoff said, is that the city's buses are caught in the same congestion as the rest of traffic. But while it is a challenging problem, he said it is not an impossible one.

"We're going to solve this," said Krawzoff. "I'm convinced."

Comments

another_local 6 years, 11 months ago

The bypass is a good idea. The impact on Howelson/Emerald is reasonable. This is an approach that should be pursued.

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elk2 6 years, 11 months ago

Orton lives smack dab in the middle of town. He doesn't have to drive west to get home. He doesn't have to experience the traffic jam if he doesn't want to. Ask those who live west of town. It's not fun.

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

I prefer exploring the idea of expanding public transportation further. A side by side comparison of costs might be a good idea as well as one of impact on the area........, both areas. My fear would be that there would be increased developement if the bypass were constructed. Zoning laws can be changed and that should be a big concern. Steamboat is already growing at an alarming rate. Adding fuel to the fire by making this area more accessible via motorized traffic should worry all of us. There were reasons why this wasn't done in the past. It would be prudent if this was well thought out and not rushed into. The appeal of this city to many is its vast amount of open space along with its diverse recreational opportunities. With all the construction already going on here I'm not sure carving up yet another piece of the countryside is such a good idea. Improving or expanding the public transportation system that is already in place should be looked at much more thouroughly, in the long run it may be the better option. As with most issues these days the resolve won't please everyone although some sort of solution is needed.

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

City parking lots where non residents had to pay to park may be a partial solution. It would incourage those who were not residents to utilize the public transportation system more. Many communities around the country use such a system. Stickers provided to Steamboat residents to attach to their windshields would allow them to park free while others would be required to pay a fee to park. Park and ride lots with a shuttle service utilizing existing bus routes would enhance the system by offering free parking outside the congested areas. Might be worth looking at and would be much less expensive and invasive than the proposed bypass. Just another thought!

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David Wilson 6 years, 11 months ago

The "Howlesen" bypass is ill-conceived, and would seriously harm the esssential character of Steamboat. Can't we find a way to address traffic issues without putting roaring semi-trucks on Emerald?

The logical option for a bypass is not to build a new road, but to improve existing roads. For example, Twentymile Road connects with Highway 40 to the west of town and with County Roads that already traverse over the south ridge of Emerald.

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bubba 6 years, 11 months ago

Colobob- isn't the park and ride concept sort of like the stockbridge center- you can park there and ride the bus in, and not deal with town, but nobody does.

Expanding the public transportation capacity is a waste of money, as nobody rides it as-is. If the buses were close to capacity, then maybe that would help, but everybody here drives to work- figure out how to incentivize people to ride before we spend on more transportation... I'm not sure allowing free parking for steamboat residents will help, as Steamboat 2, Heritage Silver Spur and the future Steamboat 700 all are/will be annexed by the town, so you'll just have parking lots full of their cars. Make every space in town a metered spot, you are exempt from paying on the block that you live on- unpopular, yes. A deterrent to driving, maybe.

One more thing, if you are complaining about the traffic, then you are part of the problem- I commute from the west side to the east side every day, by bus or bike, and the traffic doesn't bother me a bit. Not saying it's practical for everyone, but Elk2 is right- only people who sit in the traffic see the urgency of a 'fix.' To address this, you can either point fingers at people who don't sit in traffic, or figure out how to join that side of the issue.

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zirkel 6 years, 11 months ago

Another partial solution... Maybe businesses could start offering cash incentives to their employees who choose to park outside of town and take a city-provided bus/shuttle into town? This would help reduce downtown parking congestion, as well.

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cybergypsy 6 years, 11 months ago

To colobob: Expanding public transportation is certainly a noble thought...but inherently flawed...most Americans just won't be separated from their vehicles. We want to be in control of our schedule, route and travel companions and we want the privacy and convenience of our own cars. Period. I lived in Steamboat for 12 years and NEVER ONCE RODE THE FREE BUS because of those reasons...I don't think that I'm unique in that fact by any means. We have become such an impatient society that even with free public transportation, we can find a reason to take the car (after all the bus doesn't stop at Starbucks). A sad but true commentary on the New Steamboat.

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Snowmaker 6 years, 11 months ago

In the 1990's this was addressed in Olympian Hall and several options downtown were presented. The road above Howelsen seem to be the least appealing. I had presented verbally making Lincoln east bound from 12th or so to 3rd street and making Oak west bound and have round abouts at 3rd and Lincoln and 12th and Lincoln. This could provide diagonal parking downtown on Lincoln thus increasing parking, decrease traffic by ruffly half on Lincoln, Oak would need major improvements but could bring a better downtown to feel to both Lincoln and Oak. Sidealks on Oak would have to be constructed, street lights installed and some buildings might have to be removed on the west end. The east end could take up two parking lots to make west bound traffic flow through two curves. In the 1990's the property east of Howelsen and above River Road in the meadows was threatened by a becoming a housing development and it was saved and has become great hiking trails and XC ski trails. I would hate to see a road go up and over the hillside and split all the bike/hike/XC ski trails. Rita Valentine was very big with her voice about protecting Emerald Mountain and would be happy to see what it looks like today. Mass transit is always a good option for any community but on a daily basis hundreds of trucks hauling matterial for construction pass through downtown, contractors getting building supply's pass through town, travelers passing through town are all people that will not benefit from mass transit. Increasing lanes in both directions will only help these groups if it is over Howelsen or one way routes downtown.

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OnTheBusGus 6 years, 11 months ago

A bypass marring Emerald is such a bad idea. I agree with changing the flow of traffic in the manner that Craig has done with designated eastbound and westbound streets. In Maui they have traffic problems during rush hour and really no land to expand on. Maui practices "contra flow" traffic situations during rush hour where a four lane street has three lanes going in the main direction of flow and one lane going in the opposite direction. We don't have parking structures that other ski towns have. Aspen has the main one downtown that alleviated most of their parking problems. What about having one at the Wells Fargo lot. That is a pretty convenient location. Some other thoughts: How about HOV lanes? I am sure that would get some carpooling started. How about park and ride lots in Hayden or Steamboat II/Heritage Park/Silver Spur? What about a light rail system? I know this all sounds like RTD, huh?

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

bubba, actually I'm not complaining about the current traffic situation but I am concerned about some of the current proposals being made to resolve it. As far as the current transportation system not being used to its full capacity I agree wholeheartedly. I'm not sure it is a wise idea to eliminate it, moreover I think we should figure out ways to improve it and entice people to use it more. How do we do that? Frankly I just don't know. What I do know is that there are a lot of creative and intelligent people in this community and I think improving on an existing idea that could work is better than carvining up the mountain. For the reasons stated in my earlier post I just think that construction of the proposed bypass would be like opening Pandora's Box.

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

cybergypsy, Just for the record I'm not in any way shape or form a big fan of the New Steamboat. My suggestion was only that, a suggestion. I'm just not for carving up the countryside any quicker than is being done already. I agree with much of what you've said. That said maybe we need to fugure out ways or incentives to get people to use a system that's already in place. If not then we need to come up with an idea with less of an impact than the current bypass proposal may create. Any time you put a road somewhere construction is sure to follow. I know that there are currently zoning laws but as I said they can be changed. A lot of BIG MONEY is moving in to Steamboat and unfortunately with money comes power, the power to shape and mold things to powers liking. If big money got behind changing the zoning laws then change would be inevitable and developement along the bypass would result. I'm just not for the bypass and would prefer an alternative, at least one less invasive on the counrtryside.

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BAR_UE 6 years, 11 months ago

Let's require all the contractors to use the city bus or bike path...then we'll outlaw gravel trucks and make draft horse teams haul the loads...and don't forget about the new free Mountain to Town Trolley...How about the Craig to Steamboat Silver Bullet high speed train...there are so many options to explore...reminds me of the old Steamburg Falls cartoon idea with a "Bubble" over the ski mountain so we could have year round skiing...

This road discussion has been on the Fast Track for more than 30 years...so don't rush into anything folks...it would destroy the character of Steamboat to make any rash decisions...or maybe the traffic resulting from NOT making a decision would be even worse.

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bikegirl 6 years, 11 months ago

I live west of town,and yes traffic can be a pain sometimes,but traffic is part of life,no matter where you live.it's really not that bad compared to more urban areas,start building more roads,and we become more urban, with more traffic ,construction,etc.How much fun will that be elk2?

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Watcher 6 years, 11 months ago

Steve Elkins' plan is anything but ill conceived. It is thoughtful and well planned. I think everyone should really look at his proposal before just dismissing it. He proposes taking the road from the James Brown Bridge around behind Emerald Mountain, entering Highway 40 at Mount Werner road.

Yes, I'm sure semi trucks would use it and not go downtown, gee that would be horrible. lol Of course they needn't go roaring over the road as there are something called speed limits. This road would also provide access to Emerald Mountain for all people, not just those physically fit enough to climb there.

Bubba wants to 'incentivize' people to ride public transportation. I actually heard someone talking about fines for those who want to drive their own vehicles. I think this kind of thinking scares me more than a well thought out bypass. I immediately have visions of a socialist society. Of course, it seems that Steamboat is heading in that direction.

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bubba 6 years, 11 months ago

Incentives come in all shapes and sizes, Watcher- not paying for fuel, a car payment, insurance and potentially parking is my incentive. the US has long subsidized the oil industry, creating an incentive for people to drive, which is part of the problem.

An incentive is not socialist- it is a way to coerce people into doing what you want without creating another needless law, which would be socialist. If you want less traffic, figure out what would make people not want to drive. For me, that's the cost- for you it may be something else, but americans respond to dollar signs.

Any way you slice it, this area is growing, and I am guessing it will grow beyond what a simple increase in road capacity will address. The only way traffic is going to get better (or not get worse) is if a larger percentage of people ride public transport. As cybergypsy said, we as a country are too into our cars for this to be likely on a large scale, but I don't think we should just throw our hands up in the air and try to figure out the best way to accommodate enough parking and roadway for every person here to go everywhere in a car- we will pave the whole valley if that is the approach, and there will still be traffic.

Once again, a long 'bypass' around town won't do as much as everyone thinks, because most of the traffic is going TO town, not around it. For the big trucks that are going through town on 40, you'll need to make the bypass faster, or it won't get used, and going behind emerald won't achieve that- if it's faster to go through town, even with the lights, then people will go through town, unless you make it illegal to do so, and that seems more socialist than trying to get people to ride a bus.

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bubba 6 years, 11 months ago

And Colobob, I meant the generic you, not you specifically. Just simply meaning that if a person isn't sitting in traffic, the traffic isn't a nuisance to them.

Before any bypass plans are drawn, I'd be curious to see how many cars go into town past 40/129 light, and what percentage of those go past Pine Grove every day, or conversely, how many go the other way. If those numbers were really analyzed, I think we would find that a bypass would be futile, as the vehicle trips are INTO town, not THROUGH it.

I would definitely not advocate getting rid of the transportation system- I need it to get to work- BUT adding capacity is overkill until people use it. The only way to encourage people to use it, in the USA, is financially. I don't think burdening businesses by expecting them to pay employees to ride the bus is fair- it's just another tax on local merchants. That leaves charging for parking, or a higher fuel tax, or both. None of these will be popular, some will call them socialist, BUT the only incentive people respond to seems to be money, and since the bus is already free, the only way to make the bus even more cost effective is to make driving cost more. I, for one, don't believe in fees for people who have cars, or another fuel tax, so paid parking makes sense to me, it only taxes those who drive in and park all day, not those who drive for a living. The revenues generated from that could eliminate some of the bottle necks in the roads, and perhaps even fund some more buses if they ever become necessary.

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

Bubba, I didn't take your comments as a personal assault. It's difficult sometimes to perceive where a person is coming from unless you can hear their voice or see their facial expressions. My comments are only meant to be constructive and offer a different point of view. I just think that carving another road in the mountain isn't the best scenerio in the long run. I wish I had an answer to the problem but I don't. We are all part of the problem, we all need to be part of the solution. There may be a viable alternative to the bypass and maybe if everyone were to put their heads together we could come up with some reasonable alternatives. New and fresh ideas don't necessarily have to be agreed with but should always be welcomed. We could all benifit from some constructive thought and new ideas instead of negative criticism. No offense was taken and none is offered in return.

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SkiTownUSA 6 years, 11 months ago

Well I like it. It should take away some of the natural beauty that made so many people move here in the first place, thus further aleviating the problem.

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id04sp 6 years, 11 months ago

Every bypass ever built on an interstate highway has led to additional development and resulted in even more congestion in the long run. Atlanta and DC are perfect examles of this. It would be the same in Steamboat unless there were NO cutoffs from one end of the bypass to the other.

Public transportation for contractors is ridiculous. You can't haul 200 pounds of tools on the bus.

Why expect employers to offer cash incentives for people not parking in town? What advantage does that provide for employers? NONE!

One reason we have congestion in town is because people speed on the approaches to town. Cars cram into the 25mph zone because they are going too fast outside of town, then everybody has to slow down going through town.

The downtown post office is the single biggest traffic problem. Eliminate the P O boxes and make them deliver to homes so the rest of us can skip the trip to check the mail.

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colobob 6 years, 11 months ago

Prudential Realtor, plan? "has an eye for seeing stuff before it's there?" This isn't an accusation on my part but it does make you think. Has to be a better way than opening up the mountain with a major road and the possibility of future devlopement. Get involved, offer some new ideas!

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id04sp 6 years, 11 months ago

Get the DOT to reduce the number of traffic signals in town by half. Locals will learn where to go to use the lights to get out into traffic.

The biggest reason traffic does not move is that it has to stop. Why does it stop? For the lights.

Some creative analysis and traffic engineering would do a lot of good. Even Craig's model of one-way streets to serve the US 40 traffic shows that you only need traffic lights where a backup would be caused if you didn't have one. That's pretty much the library and post office. Build pedestrian overpasses (like Las Vegas) and get rid of the other lights, and the traffic problem would be mostly solved.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 11 months ago

I have to say, the Las Vegas Blvd overpass-crosswalks are great! My wife and I go there enough, we use them all the time. Of course, foot traffic on the Strip is almost as bad as heading west on Lincoln Ave. at 5:15pm. Still, I think it's a great idea!

Still, as much as parents take their kids jaywalking across any point on Lincoln Ave. while a crosswalk with a light is only 15yds away (from Blimpies area to the Pool, usually), good chance there'll be a lot of accidents getting used to it.

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