ASPEN - A long-running legal dispute between Aspen government and proponents of a straight four-lane route that would essentially replace the S-curves on the west side of town has been decided in the city's favor.
The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday released a decision in the case of Vagneur v. City of Aspen, a lawsuit filed in October 2009. The ruling states that the city was correct in determining that two citizen proposals regarding the design and construction of a new route for state Highway 82's entry point into the city was "administrative in character" and therefore fell outside the scope of power that is reserved to the people through voter-driven initiatives.
City officials hailed the ruling as good news.
"We're pleased with the determination of the state Supreme Court," said City Attorney Jim True. "We were surprised the decision was taking this long, but given the significance of the case on a statewide level, it's understandable."
True said he believes former City Attorney John Worcester argued the case before the state Supreme Court sometime in 2011. The district and appellate courts already had ruled in favor of the city, which led the petitioners in the case to ask the state Supreme Court to consider the issue.
Mayor Mick Ireland said the petitioners, Curtis Vagneur and Jeffrey Evans, complicated their advocacy for a straight four-lane shot into and out of Aspen "by trying to direct how the money (for the new road) would be collected and spent and the rate of taxation and a bunch of administrative stuff."
The city's objection wasn't about the question of a different "Entrance to Aspen," as the issue is known, or whether voters should have been given another opportunity to weigh in on the issue, Ireland said. Over the years, local voters have supported and opposed various proposals that sought to eliminate the need for the S-curves, with no clear or collective consensus, he added.
"The city's objection was that (they) were trying to create administrative detail around it, which is really chaotic," Ireland said. "That was really the only issue, whether you can compel a city policy question with administrative steps. The city resisted."
Within the 50-page ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals' rejection of the contention that the initiatives were legislative "because they sought a change in the use of the right of way, noting that the change in use sought was indeed administrative in character - reconfiguring lanes."
The Supreme Court "holds that the proposed initiatives are administrative in character and therefore are not a proper exercise of the people's initiative power."
Despite the ruling, the controversy over the Entrance to Aspen and the S-curves remains. Many motorists despise the S-curves because during peak traffic periods it becomes a slow-moving bottleneck, both leaving and entering the city. Many drivers resort to taking perceived shortcuts through the quiet West End neighborhood, which has upset the residents there.
"This issue is going to come back again because as the economy continues to strengthen, you're on the tipping point of more congestion," Ireland said. "It only takes a few hundred more cars a day to create chaos."
The mayor added that there has never been a City Council majority favoring any particular plan to eliminate the S-curves and improve the vehicle flow into and out of town. A light-rail transit system has been considered in the past - even a Snowmass-to-Aspen gondola once was proposed - as have various highway configurations and new thoroughfares with dedicated bus lanes.