SHERIDAN — There are several tell-tale signs that winter is coming in Sheridan: wood smoke rising from chimneys across town, kids with sleds gathering on Linden Hill and the barricades on Brooks Street.
“It’s been one of those Sheridan traditions for so long, that’s how some people know winter is here,” City Engineer Lane Thompson said. “You hear them say, ‘The barricades are up on Brooks. Snow must be in the forecast since the barricades are up.’”
For more than 25 years, the city has closed Brooks Street for one block between Burkitt and Whitney streets along the west side of the County Courthouse when winter snow and ice arrives, Thompson said. One block of Whitney Street between Tschirgi and Thurmond streets is closed at the same time and for the same reasons.
Thompson said the yearly closure is a safety issue.
The slope of that section of Brooks Street is approximately 10.5 to 11 percent, Thompson said. It intersects Burkitt Street, which is well-traveled by vehicles and pedestrians. With icy streets, stopping effectively is a challenge, posing a risk for serious collisions.
The street is closed with the first snow and remains closed until the safety issue is past, which is often in May, Thompson said.
Some Sheridan residents have expressed frustration about the fact that once Brooks Street is closed, it’s closed for the duration of the winter, even when the streets are dry.
“While the city does have people out every time it does snow, it’s better to leave it closed all winter long so that we don’t have even one bad accident,” Thompson said.
Thompson noted the winter storm that hit Wednesday as a prime example of how quickly the weather can turn and make roads slick and treacherous. He said the city doesn’t want to risk not getting Brooks Street closed in time if a storm does roll in quickly.
Approximately two years ago, Sheridan County approached the city of Sheridan to ask if closing Brooks Street permanently may be an option, County Commissioner Steve Maier said.
At the time, the city was conducting traffic studies, and the city asked if the intersection of Brooks and Burkitt streets could be examined. The county held a couple meetings to gather public input on permanently closing Brooks, but Maier said turnout at the meetings was slim.
Some area residents were opposed to closing the street because it would change their driving routes. Many Sheridan drivers use Brooks Street as a cut-off to circumvent the intersection at Main and Burkitt Streets, Maier said.
However, other area residents circulated two petitions asking that the road be closed permanently and gathered a decent amount of support, Maier said. The County Commissioners submitted one of those petitions to the city, but at this point, the city has no plans to permanently Brooks.
The city did install a flashing signal for a pedestrian crosswalk after completion of its traffic study, which the county appreciates, Maier said. It has helped reduce the amount of traffic accidents and near-accidents in the area.
However, the county conducted its own small-scale traffic study and found accidents do still occur. County security cameras also show how busy the area is, especially since the entrance and exit to the county’s west parking lot is so close to the intersection of Burkitt and Brooks streets.
“There are near misses on a regular basis,” Maier said.
Maier said the County Commissioners have no plans to further address the issue at this time. Since Brooks is a city street, any action to close or alter it must be made at the city level.
For now, Thompson said the city will close Brooks Street (and Whitney Street) as usual with the first snow until the safety hazards appear to have passed in the spring.