The battle over cruise control

City, state clash over U.S. 40 speed limit

— For a few months, the sight of the 25 mph speed limit sign on the stretch of U.S. 40 between the Rabbit Ears Motel and the top of the first hill out of downtown going east offered lead-footed Steamboat residents and visitors a warning against the tempting urge to zoom out of town.

But now, with the reintroduction of a 45 mph limit in that spot starting March 21, bringing the limit back to what was deemed the "legal" limit by the Colorado Department of Transportation, pedals can return to the metal.

The limit was at 45 mph until this summer, when the city successfully persuaded CDOT to bring the limit down to 25 mph at the point where people begin to leave the downtown area. After reviewing engineering and traffic study records, however, CDOT realized 45 mph should be the legal limit and reversed the initial decision, said Bob Wilson, a spokesman for CDOT.

"Twenty-five was artificially low," Wilson said.

People still must keep the speedometer below 25 mph, which is the speed limit through the downtown area, until they actually pass the 45-mph sign, Wilson said.

The city, which urged CDOT to bring the limit down in order to account for pedestrian movement coming from the motel and the entrance to Rich Weiss Park, will continue to fight for a reduction, said Public Works Director Jim Weber.

Though the area may be in the city limits, the highway is in the jurisdiction of the state.

The city police department will not be pardoning any of the speeding violations that occurred in that area in the few months when the limit was 25 mph, said Sgt. Jerry Stabile.

Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing said the area is not heavily patrolled by the police because it is not one of the areas where people complain about speeding cars or where there have been many safety problems.

The entrance and exit to Old Fish Creek Falls Road on the other side of the highway, however, has been a source of concern, Fiebing said. On the westbound side of the highway, the city still enforces a 25 mile per hour limit as cars come into downtown.

Greg Koehler, the manager of the Rabbit Ears Motel, said he often watches his customers, sometimes with small children, try to cross the highway to go to the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center, dodging traffic as they walk.

Oftentimes the traffic speeds up prematurely in anticipation of the 45 mph limit, he said.

"What scares me is when I see a mom with three kids halfway across the street in the middle lane and cars are looking to turn," Koehler said.

He does not, however, think the speed limit changes have done anything either to improve or worsen the situation.

"The change in the speed limit (to 25 mph) did not really change anything. I still think people went by at 45 mph. I'm probably as guilty of it as anybody," Koehler said.

Koehler's father, Ron, said he thinks the best solution to the pedestrian safety issue would be to build an overpass over the highway on the east side of town, though he said he doesn't think his suggestion will be accepted by the city or the state.

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