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  • Dylan Anderson

Plan to improve emergency evacuation access to one of Steamboat’s largest residential areas gets pushback

Adding a bridge over Walton Creek would alleviate traffic on busy Walton Creek Road in addition to improving evacuation routes in the area in case of a wildfire in the area, but additional traffic on Stone Lane is a concern for residents.

Residents near Stone Lane are concerned about a plan to add a second access to a residential area on the south side of Steamboat Springs that would aid in evacuation in case of an emergency like a wildfire.

The plan would add a bridge over Walton Creek — connecting a stub of Stone Lane off of U.S. 40 to the residential road of the same name on the other side of the waterway. City staff say he bridge is needed both to better traffic flows into one of the city’s largest residential areas and to offer more ways out of if it ever needed to evacuate because of a wildfire or another emergency.

But Council member Amy Dickson said Tuesday that she has received numerous comments from residents both on Stone Lane and beyond concerned about the bridge and the additional traffic it could bring near their homes.

“This is causing massive stress for the residents of this area, not just those on Stone Lane,” Dickson said, claiming that one resident she knows has even moved out of the neighborhood because of the prospect of the bridge. “There’s multiple reasons why we are doing this and the residents see no benefit to any of them, minus a potential wildfire, egress only.”

The plan for the bridge is still in the early stages, with the current timeline not having construction on the connection happening until 2026. Last week, the city announced a contract with Denver-based Theorem Design Group to design the project and conduct public engagement for the initial phase.

On Tuesday, City Public Works Director Jon Snyder said the plan is to do a ground survey and data collection for a traffic study this summer and finish the conceptual design this winter. Snyder detailed three public meetings about the project that will happen over the next two years, each after a more specific design effort. Construction is slated for the summer of 2026 and does not currently have identified funding.

The plan to build the bridge has been contemplated since 1979 — about a decade before many of the homes in the area were constructed, according to Routt County Assessor Data. The city got the easement for the bridge when lots in the Whistler area were platted roughly 40 years ago.

“Staff thinks this is a very good idea for two reasons,” Snyder said. “Emergency ingress and egress especially for a situation like a wildfire and then congestion mitigation on Walton Creek Road.”

When asked after the discussion, Steamboat Springs Police Chief Mark Beckett said there is currently a “single point of failure” if everyone was forced to evacuate the area on Walton Creek Road.

“If we have to get people out of that area in a rush, that’s a problem — that’s a big problem,” Beckett said. “The biggest concern for public safety is evacuation.”

Caption: An overhead shot of Stone Lane showing where a new bridge over Walton Creek is being planned. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)

Other council members said they heard concerns from residents in the area as well, though the concerns were about increased traffic and safety for pedestrians, not the ability to evacuate the area in an emergency. Both Dickson and Council member Steve Muntean suggested the city should pursue a bridge that would only be used in an emergency situation.

“There’s a lot of children over there,” Muntean said. “The traffic changes that would occur as a result of that, the increase in traffic [is] dangerous to the children, dangerous to walkers and cyclists.”

There was no discussion on Tuesday about the safety of children or pedestrians who live along streets that would see less traffic if the bridge was built. The plan also includes additional multi-modal paths to improve safety for pedestrians along Stone Lane, but Dickson said residents don’t want it if it comes with a bridge.

If a bridge wasn’t built or if it was only for emergency situations, Snyder said the city would need to build three “costly projects” on Walton Creek Road to deal with current traffic levels, which can occasionally back up all the way to U.S. 40.

Council member Michael Buccino said he felt the reasons he had heard in opposition to the bridge were “personal issues.”

“I’m not looking at the personal issues. I’m looking at it from a city and a global sense,” Buccino said. “We need to hear from our citizens … because they need to be specific, not personal, on what it is about this bridge that they don’t want. Right now, I’m all for this bridge and I haven’t heard a good enough compelling argument from the community besides personal issues.”

Concerns about the bridge brewed up at Council last year when they approved the development plan for new hotels adjacent to the U.S. 40 side of Stone Lane. That development was required to contribute more than $13,000 toward the planning of the project and another $260,000 toward construction.

A 1996 traffic study for the Whistler Neighborhood says the bridge should be constructed “once the vacant parcels along U.S. 40 adjacent to the proposed extension develop.”  

Council members suggested they should add an agenda item to a future meeting to discuss the bridge sooner rather than later and allow residents to air their concerns. Council member Bryan Swintek said he has had experience with this neighborhood's ability to organize in the past during his time on the city's Planning Commission.

“The reason [for the concern] is because it is a neighborhood over there and [the bridge] would totally decimate the neighborhood,” Swintek said. “We will have very upset people here, and I would love to avoid that. … I personally am very apprehensive to have to face this.”

Top Photo Caption: The residential side of stone lane currently terminates in a cul-de-sac, but would eventually continue to connect with U.S. 40 if a bridge was built over Walton Creek as currently planned. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)


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