Steamboat Springs Before Philo Shelton started his new job as public works director for the city of Steamboat Springs, he received a prediction from a predecessor: "You will be talking about the bypass at some time in your career."
The prophecy was fulfilled Thursday, when Shelton outlined the history of bypass discussions in Steamboat Springs at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Economic Development Council's 2008 Economic Summit, titled "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Transportation and our Economic Future."
Shelton was a panelist for a discussion titled "Highway 40: Congestion or Compromise?" Moderator and Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said the topic is one that has persisted for decades.
"Whether you moved here in the 70s, 80s or 90s, Highway 40 through town has long been an issue," she said.
Shelton said the idea of an alternate route to U.S. Highway 40 around Steamboat was first studied in 1973. Six alternatives were considered, but none was built. The idea - in 14 different forms - was studied again in the 1990s. Shelton said the community decided all the options were unacceptable, but if a bypass was going to be considered, it would have to go south of U.S. 40. In 2004, the city reevaluated two routes: extensions of either Howelsen Parkway or Yampa Street.
All that leads to the city's current policy, which is to promote alternative modes of transportation rather than building new roads, Shelton said.
"There's really no way to pave your way out of growth," Shelton said, using a phrase often said by city community development and planning director Tom Leeson.
"There's always going to be problems with transportation. You never can build yourself out of it," Shelton added.
$23.5 million until 2035
Although a bypass is not actively being pursued, City Engineer Janet Hruby said the city is taking other steps to improve U.S. 40 traffic flow. Hruby explained the city and county's recently adopted access management plan, which prescribes techniques for improving travel on U.S. 40 in the west Steamboat area. The techniques include eliminating some of the current accesses to the highway, removing turning vehicles from through traffic lanes and adding internal connections that would reduce the need for motorists to get on the highway.
"It starts with a plan," Hruby said. "Access management is controlling the way you access the highway."
The plan has received mixed reviews. A group of west Steamboat business owners submitted a letter to the city expressing their opposition to it because of their loss of access, full turning movements or both. Hruby said the city doesn't have money or a plan in place to carry out the plan itself, and that the changes likely won't occur until properties are redeveloped.
"As development occurs, little pieces can happen," said Hruby, who also said the plan should make things easier for developers since it will be approved by the Colorado Department of Transportation. "If a developer wants to develop a property, they don't need to negotiate with CDOT."
Dave Eller, a CDOT Region 3 engineer, outlined the process by which highway improvements get paid for and built. Eller noted the statewide shortfall in transportation funding that makes it hard and tiresome to get any project in line for construction. With the Northwest Transportation Region - Routt, Moffat, Jackson, Grand and Rio Blanco counties - expected to receive only $23.5 million for highways between now and 2035, progress will be slow on projects such as the U.S. 40 improvements that are waiting in line for state funding. U.S. 40 currently is third on the region's priority list, after Colorado highways 13 and 131.
Nonetheless, Eller said the budgetary situation should not discourage local governments from being involved and planning needed improvements in case things change.
"Local governments must advocate for the projects that they want prioritized through the planning process," Eller said.