Steamboat Springs If Routt County residents ever get the chance to cruise the Slate Creek Connector, it won't be the shortcut between Clark and Hayden that some have envisioned. Set your cruise control to 25 miles per hour instead of 45.
The future road linking U.S. Highway 40 from a point west of town to Routt County Road 129 north of Steamboat Springs Airport isn't intended to whisk cars from the west end of the county to the north. Instead, it's meant to reduce traffic congestion by siphoning off motorists destined for a new commercial center in the proposed Steamboat 700 development.
"The Slate Creek connector could alleviate traffic at the intersection of U.S. 40 and (Routt County Road) 129," Public Works Engineer Laura Anderson told a joint meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday night. "If they put in a grocery store, that could be a draw from the north" end of the county.
"It's not meant to be a bypass," Steamboat Springs Public Works Director Philo Shelton agreed. "It's a route into that commercial center."
Speed limit debated
The City Council voted unanimously to keep the Slate Creek Connector in its planning for Steamboat 700 where 2,000 residential units someday could be developed. And council members also agreed that Steamboat 700 developers wouldn't have to share the cost of the portions of the road outside their boundaries if owners of neighboring property propose their own developments.
Final alignments of the full length of the road have not been drawn. But for motorists on U.S. 40 it would begin at a point on the north side of the highway roughly opposite Sleepy Bear mobile home park. It would continue north through Steamboat 700 and exit the development at a point near the Walter Scott property west of the airport runway, possibly continuing through one or two other parcels of private property until reaching its other terminus on C.R. 129.
Councilwoman Meg Bentley lent her support to a slower, gentler Slate Creek Connector.
"It can work at 25 miles per hour," Bentley said. "I think we'll all get used to it not being a superhighway."
Although they did not cast votes on the issue, all three county commissioners were active participants in the discussion.
Commission Chairman Doug Monger said he lost enthusiasm for the road when he read a traffic study suggesting Slate Creek would likely have a 25 mph speed limit.
At that rate of travel, he said, it won't serve the needs of people seeking to avoid the congestion at the stoplight at U.S. 40 and C.R. 129 where traffic bogs down on its way into the city.
"My people from the county aren't going to drive through there," Monger said. "It doesn't serve us at all. Pretty soon we've taken all the functionality out of the road for the county's interest."
Councilman Walter Magill agreed with Monger and made the case that the road should not run through the heart of Steamboat 700's residential neighborhoods at all. He advocated a realignment of C.R. 42 that would allow the road to bypass Steamboat 700.
"It's a rural connector," Magill said. "It should go through rural land."
However, Steamboat Springs Planning Services Manager John Eastman said difficult terrain on the most likely routes bypassing the new development would make the road prohibitively expensive.
City staff placed the question of the Slate Creek Connector on the meeting agenda to get direction about how to proceed in annexation discussions with Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy.
Mulcahy reminded council and the commissioners that he and his partners had always acknowledged the need to build the portion of Slate Creek internal to their development. He added that it's his position that the road, as well as other facets of his development, would increase the value of surrounding developable land. He strongly suggested those landowners should have to pay a full pro-rate share of the cost of completing the road, should they come forward with plans to develop.
Mulcahy said his development team was proposing to pay 18 percent of the cost of the road outside their boundaries in the event that local governments decide they couldn't wait to complete the road and undertook it themselves.
"I think we've got a great offer on the table, and that's what we should move forward with," Quinn said.
Quinn moved to affirm plans to keep the Slate Creek Connector in play during Steamboat 700 annexation discussions. Further, he moved that the developers not be required to pay for more than the road within their boundaries, unless local government advances the timetable. City Council agreed.