ASPEN - The four poles that hold up traffic-signal lights at Aspen's busiest intersection are old and outdated, and the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to replace them.
The state agency notified city officials last summer that it wants to tackle the project, at Main and Mill streets, soon, said Tyler Christoff, senior project engineer in the city's Engineering Department.
Soon, in CDOT's world, could mean this fall or sometime in 2014, Christoff said. The state Transportation Department does not have money earmarked for the project in its 2013 budget, but is looking for ways to fund it, he said.
"If it doesn't happen this year, the funding would most likely be available in 2014," Christoff said. "It's really up in the air right now."
The project could take as long as a month, he estimated. Crews would likely work around traffic by reducing the number of active lanes at the intersection of Mill Street and Main Street on an as-needed basis, Christoff said. Main Street is part of state Highway 82, which is why CDOT is responsible for the poles and signal lights.
The pole in the northwest corner of the intersection, near the Hotel Jerome, has taken some abuse over the years, he said, as large trucks and other vehicles have run into it from time to time.
"The poles are extremely old. They've had a number of impacts from trucks and other vehicles. The one in the northwestern corner has some visible damage to it. They've gone past their useful life span, and CDOT would like to upgrade them," Christoff said.
Christoff said he didn't know when the poles were first installed.
"I'm told they're about 30 years old," said Aspen Transportation Director John Krueger.
The project likely would involve only the poles and the mast arms that hold the signal lights, not the lights themselves, Christoff said. CDOT has identified other poles at Main Street intersections that need replacing, but Main and Mill is first on the list, he said.
The estimated cost of the project was not available at Wednesday night. Krueger said that when CDOT has money available, it will then put the project out for bid among private contractors.
At a City Council work session on Tuesday, city officials discussed the project with council members. CDOT would pay for the project, secure a contractor to do the work and maintain the poles over their lifespan - as long as its standard-issue poles are used.
Amy Guthrie, the city's historic preservation officer, told council members that the Historic Preservation Commission, in an advisory role, suggested that CDOT or the city install custom-designed poles that are more in line with Aspen's style.
"The (commission) would prefer a post that was customized a little more toward our streetscape and our town character rather than the standard size that CDOT would do on any highway," Guthrie said.
Christoff said that if the city decides that it wants a custom-designed pole, it would have to pay for it and maintain it once it's installed. The cost to the city could be as much as $100,000 if it chooses that route, according to Scott Miller, city assets director.
"To replace the poles with a standard CDOT pole is no charge to the city," Miller told council members Tuesday. "The poles that HPC would prefer is a custom pole, and we estimated it at $100,000 per intersection. The direction we've gotten from the city manager is (to go with the) standard pole."
"CDOT also said that not only would we have to purchase the poles, which we don't have a current budget for, and you'd probably need a capital replacement later on and a maintenance and repair budget for that, and assume the liability for them and basically own them," Krueger said. "So there are some other impacts."
Councilman Torre said he would support spending the money on the customized, historic-looking poles.
"I would support $100,000 for the intersection of Main and Mill," he said. "If CDOT wants to take the rest of our intersections and make them look like crap, like they have already, then I guess that's their prerogative.
"I'm still upset about the (pedestrian crosswalk) buttons that they've put in on their own little stands instead of attaching those to the poles. My experience with CDOT, though, is that they pretty much just will do what they want and run over you no matter what. They've already made several of our intersections look a lot worse than they were before."