Updating infrastructure in changing city an ongoing challenge
Date posted: July 18, 2013
SHERIDAN — From inside his home on East Fifth Street, Sheridan resident Rich McCormick gets a daily first-hand look at semi-trucks and other large tankers as they barrel into town from the Interstate 90 exit just east of his front door.
This year’s rodeo traffic now behind him, McCormick said commercial vehicle use on East Fifth Street — a situation he considers extremely dangerous for both homeowners and commuters — has spiked in recent years, especially during large events.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot heavier,” he said. “I think this is the only road in Wyoming that has (traffic jams).”
As a residential homeowner in a rapidly developing area of the city, McCormick’s concerns shine a spotlight on the difficult task facing government officials and community leaders as they attempt to refine city infrastructure in response to demographic shifts and the emergence of new industry.
And while local leaders have taken steps to outline the challenges and opportunities facing areas along East Fifth Street in recent months, residents like McCormick say their needs are often considered of lesser importance than the needs of business owners in the area.
A joint effort of the city, county and the Wyoming Department of Transportation, the recently adopted East Fifth Street Corridor Plan sets the stage for a series of changes to the road over the next several years.
Among those changes, streetscape alterations will aim to make the largely state-owned road more pedestrian friendly. Planners contend the renovations will have a calming effect on traffic and provide further protection for drivers, pedestrians, bikers and property owners alike.
Still, homeowners like McCormick believe more needs to be done in order to protect the value of residential neighborhoods along the road.
While the speed limit in front of his home is 30 miles per hour, McCormick believes very few drivers actually adhere to the law.
In an ideal world, he would like to see large trucks diverted from the Fifth Street exits to the two other Sheridan exits on either end of town.
“They shouldn’t be using this road,” he said. “This is a residential road.”
Officials at the Wyoming Department of Transportation, however, said they don’t have the authority to tell truck drivers they can’t use the Fifth Street exit.
WYDOT Public Involvement Specialist Ronda Holwell said businesses along the road such as gas stations and motels rely heavily on through traffic, and that to divert large tankers away from the street would effectively put them at a competitive disadvantage.
“The businesses are what you have to be careful of there,” she said.
But Holwell admitted that East Fifth Street presents a unique set of challenges because of its quick transition from a busy interstate exit to quiet residential neighborhood.
With regards to the posted speed limit, Holwell said WYDOT determines maximum speeds based on studies of how the road is actually used by drivers.
Because of its proximity to the interstate, she said it’s very unlikely the speed limit in front of McCormick’s home will ever be lowered. Doing so would create an unfair speed trap, she said.
According to WYDOT literature, about 85 percent of drivers travel at a reasonably safe speed for the road conditions they encounter regardless of speed limit signs.
For his part, McCormick said he doesn’t accept the argument that the posted speed limit on East Fifth Street is mostly adhered to by drivers. He added that he’s seen very little enforcement of violations by law enforcement agencies.
Capt. Carl Clements of the Wyoming Highway Patrol — the primary agency charged with enforcing traffic offenses on East Fifth Street — said the road’s location near an interstate interchange can make for a difficult balance between the needs of truckers and residents.
“I don’t disagree with (McCormick’s) perspective on what he sees, but large trucks moving at the speed limit can look like they’re moving particularly fast,” he said.
And while few major renovation projects are slated to take place on East Fifth Street in the near future, homeowners like McCormick say their needs should be considered a more pressing priority when it comes to creating a safer environment.
Just how to accomplish that goal while continuing to allow for the unique needs of businesses and commuters will remain a challenge for government officials and planners alike.