We can all agree that U.S. Highway 40 traffic congestion west of downtown has been an issue for many years. But almost nothing has been done about it.
This annexation is the beginning of the solution to U.S. 40 challenges. By locating services such as a grocery store, parks, office space and retail, and providing transit, bike lanes and core trail connection, as well as requiring new development to contribute to funding U.S. 40 improvements, Steamboat 700 is doing more to solve the U.S. 40 challenges than any previous efforts in the past 20 years.
More than 50 percent of our workers today must find housing in Hayden, Oak Creek, Stagecoach and Craig, many in car-dependent developments that are out of reach of transit.
Our traffic issues will become only more severe and costly for citizens to address if we do not implement the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and annex Steamboat 700.
It’s time to prepare for growth, concentrate it in west Steamboat and invest in transportation solutions that reduce regional traffic, preserve our environment and strengthen our economy.
Funding for existing problems
The annexation agreement prohibits any Steamboat 700 development until existing U.S. 40 traffic problems are fixed and the necessary highway improvements for each phase of Steamboat 700 are in place.
The plan requires a new U.S. 40-Elk River Road intersection, fully funded by Steamboat 700. There are bicycle and pedestrian linkages into Old Town on a new Core Trail extension that will connect not only Steamboat 700, but also Steamboat II, Silver Spur and Heritage Park.
Without a partner like Steamboat 700, existing and future challenges will have to be funded by existing residents because budgets at the state and federal level for highway projects are severely underfunded, and neither the city nor the county have money to deal with U.S. 40.
So the annexation brings the community real dollars for U.S. 40 right away — and a major competitive advantage statewide: local matching funds for improvements paid by Steamboat 700.
No development without improvements
The city has extraordinary control in the 20- to 30-year implementation of this transportation plan. The Annexation Agreement requires U.S. 40 improvements to be constructed, or have the financing in place, before the city can issue any approvals for development at Steamboat 700.
That’s right — the rate of growth in West Steamboat is tied to required improvements on U.S. 40. No improvements, no development at Steamboat 700. This puts the community in the driver’s seat, controls growth and protects taxpayers. Read for yourself at www.good4steamboat.com.
The 13th Street intersection issue is a legitimate concern, and Steamboat 700 is required to provide funding for the eventual solution. However, to suggest that Steamboat 700’s projected vehicle trips will “disappear” from U.S. 40 if the annexation is overturned is flat-out wrong. Those cars still will be on U.S. 40 as our workers increasingly commute from Hayden, Oak Creek, Stagecoach and Craig in search of adequate housing and services, and there will be no funding from those outlying areas to fix traffic problems. That’s not a solution.
Ultimately, this is a social issue for Steamboat because deferring solutions on transportation issues forever, while long commutes increase, is a major risk to the fabric of our community.
The authors of the “Vision 2020” plan noted back in 1994, “Commuter culture means more traffic problems and feeds back into the loss of small-town friendliness.”
Is it better for the backbone of our community and our economy — the people who work here — to be relegated to long commutes on U.S. 40 every day? And not just our seasonal work force, but also our teachers, nurses and young professionals?
There have been many other U.S. 40 ideas — timing the traffic signals on Lincoln Avenue; building more transit centers in Craig and Hayden to bus in our workers; re-routing U.S. 40 around Old Town; etc. But these ideas won’t solve our region’s real transportation challenges. To claim they will is more than off-base — it’s foolhardy and irresponsible. That’s the “head-in-sand” approach, and it has failed us for far too long.
Fifteen years ago, our community’s long-term vision for transportation recommended controlled growth that concentrates housing, services and transit options on the west end of town.
Combine that vision with Steamboat 700’s multi-million dollar financial commitments for U.S. 40 — at zero cost to existing city taxpayers — and we can move forward on solving our existing and future transportation challenges. And that’s good for Steamboat.