Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Steamboat Springs As more than 20 community members introduced themselves around a table at the Routt County Courthouse on Tuesday night, many said the same thing about the curved stretch of U.S. Highway 40 near mile marker 127.
The community members gathered to discuss possible safety measures that could be taken on that particular stretch of U.S. 40, which includes accesses to the Steamboat Golf Club, Riverbend Cabins and residences. U.S. Sen. Al White, Colorado Department of Transportation Region Director Weldon Allen, Sheriff Gary Wall and Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush joined the discussion.
The meeting was prompted by the July 28 death of Lorna Lou Farrow, who was struck and killed by a dump truck while checking her mailbox along that stretch of U.S. 40. Farrow, 58, co-owned Farrow Repair Service west of Steamboat Springs with her husband, Gary, and brother-in-law, Dusty.
A suggestion brought up by several community members was reducing the speed limit in the stretch that Riverbend Cabins resident Steve Lowery called an "acceleration zone."
Allen, who was joined at the meeting by three Department of Transportation colleagues, said the issues regarding the stretch of U.S. 40 are nothing new to CDOT. He said there are changes that need to be made, but adjusting the speed limit isn't at the top of his list.
"We believe changing the speed limit will not change the problem," Allen said, citing the habits of local drivers who accelerate through the 55 mph one-mile stretch to reach 65 mph. "We need to focus not on individual things that folks think will alleviate the problem, but focus on things that will actually alleviate the problem."
He said there are several short-term solutions to help increase safety there. They include:
- Conducting a speed study, which determines speed limits by calculating the speed of 85 percent of the drivers during a short period of time. If the study indicated speeds were lower than the posted limit, the Department of Transportation could reduce the speed. Allen said the study could be completed within a month.
- Adding signage to alert drivers of upcoming accesses to residences and businesses. Allen said the cement bases for the signs already had been poured and that they just needed to decide which signs to order from the department's sign shop in Denver, which could happen in the next few weeks.
- Trimming some of the trees around the curve to make hard-to-see driveways and other access roads visible from the highway. Allen said that would be done before the winter.
- Contacting the Colorado State Patrol about more enforcement on that stretch of U.S. 40. Many of the community members in attendance said drivers passed them on the shoulder or even crossed the double-yellow line to pass as they turned - which is illegal, according to state law. Allen said that could be done immediately.
- Distributing educational materials about speed limits, access roads and hazards on that stretch of the highway, which Allen also said could be done immediately.
Down the road
Allen said middle- to long-term solutions could include widening the shoulders, adding a center turning lane and acquiring right-of-way to move the highway's slopes back, but those solutions likely wouldn't occur for at least a year or two because of the state's budget limitations.
Mitsch Bush said funding from the state FASTER legislation, which increased vehicle registration to raise $250 million annually for state bridge and road safety projects, could pay for some of those longer-term solutions. She said as chairwoman of the Northwest Transportation Planning Commission, she could lobby representatives from the commission's other counties - including Rio Blanco, Moffatt, Grand and Jackson and their municipalities - to prioritize some of the CDOT funding for a project on U.S. 40.
Sen. White said the only other way to change the speed limit was to propose legislation that would have to pass through the state House and Senate before being approved by Gov. Bill Ritter. White said he would evaluate whether to do that after the speed study was completed, which he expected before the next legislative session begins in January.
Dusty Farrow, who was one of the community members in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, said he appreciated that local and state lawmakers and CDOT officials cared about improving the safety of the area where his sister-in-law died.
"I think they're going to do what they can," he said. "What that will be, who knows."
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott said a dump truck was traveling west on U.S. 40 on July 28 and struck Farrow when it swerved to the right to avoid hitting a Jeep that slowed to turn left into the Riverbend Cabins. Elliott said Tuesday he still was working on the investigation, and no tickets had been issued. He said it was his top priority and likely would be completed in the next few weeks.