ASPEN - Commuters on Highway 82 will face challenges - slower speeds at the least, stops at the worst - when construction of two pedestrian underpasses begins as soon as the weather allows in the spring.
Traffic isn't likely to face significant delays when an underpass is constructed at Willits near the Whole Foods Market building, according to Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials.
Bypass lanes were constructed on both sides of the highway last fall so that traffic can continue to flow while Gould Construction builds the underpass starting in the spring. Downvalley and upvalley traffic will be diverted off the regular highway lanes and onto the special lanes for a short stretch just east of Whole Foods Market.
The posted speed limit likely will be lower than 55 miles per hour on that stretch of highway because of the bypass lanes, but traffic won't have to be halted for work, RFTA officials said in prior interviews.
"Gould (Construction) will move traffic back to the original Highway 82 lanes, finish the ends of the pedestrian underpass and build the RFTA bus rapid transit stations" next summer, said a memo from RFTA staff to the bus agency's board of directors.
The underpass is needed because RFTA is adding a major bus stop to serve Willits Town Center, where Whole Foods is located. Bus passengers using downvalley service need a safe way to negotiate the highway to travel between the bus stop and Whole Foods and the surrounding commercial area.
A second underpass slated for construction at the Aspen Business Center is a Pitkin County project that will be managed by RFTA. The bus agency will build upvalley and downvalley bus stations that will be connected by the pedestrian underpass.
"After experiencing repeated project delays over the last several months, RFTA, Pitkin County and Colorado Department of Transportation only recently came to the conclusion that a combined construction project would present the best chance for both the bus rapid transit stations and the pedestrian underpass to be completed by September 2013," the RFTA staff memo said.
The government agencies are trying to complete legal agreements necessary for RFTA to manage all parts of the project. That step is necessary before the project is put out for bid. Construction will start in March or April, depending on conditions.
No bypass lanes will be put into play at the Aspen Business Center like they will be at Willits during construction of the underpass.
"The underpass will have more impacts on traffic," RFTA President and CEO Dank Blankenship told the board of directors. The construction team will try to limit delays during prime commuting times.
"There's no cause for people to be buying Sterno," Blankenship quipped, referring to the "canned heat" that uses a jellied alcohol that can be burned in the can it comes in.