$2.3M in pedestrian safety funds at risk in Basalt | AspenTimes.com

$2.3M in pedestrian safety funds at risk in Basalt

Two pedestrians scramble acorss Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue Jan. 28 to catch their bus. The traffic signal was taking an unusually long time to cycle. Basalt aims to build a pedestrian underpass there.

Basalt has until April 1 to come up with an acceptable bid from a contractor for the pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 or it will lose $2.3 million from the state.

The Colorado Department of Transportation informed the town recently that its deadline for advancing on the project was moved to April from July. Basalt's engineering consulting firm, SGM, is scrambling to redesign the project, advertise it for bid and return to the Town Council on March 22 for a decision.

Meanwhile, Town Manager Mike Scanlon is shaking piggy banks and checking under sofa cushions to find extra local funding.

The underpass has been deemed a priority by the council because of the number of pedestrians crossing Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue, the main intersection into town. A major bus stop is located on the south side of the highway across from the Valero station-Basalt Store for riders heading upvalley. There also is substantial foot traffic from north of the highway to Basalt High School on the south. Two affordable-housing projects also are contemplated on the south side.

The underpass was conceived in 2012 and was put out for bid last summer. The town had estimated a cost of $5.1 million. The lowest bid came in $2.1 million higher.

SGM met with interested contractors in December to identify ways to reduce costs and streamline the schedule. Design revisions can probably reduce the price by about $250,000, according to Scanlon. He said $1 million plus of the estimated expense of the pedestrian underpass is "de-watering" the site for the work. However, that's a best guess that contractors put in because there are so many unknowns. The town is considering pumping tests to remove the unknowns.

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In addition to funds from CDOT, Basalt has secured $1 million from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprised of upper-valley governments, and $500,000 from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

Basalt Councilman Gary Tennenbaum sent a photo to the other council members Thursday showing two women dodging traffic on Highway 82 to get to the bus stop. He said the traffic light was taking an unusually long time to cycle, and the women didn't want to miss their bus. His email was titled, "As if we needed more evidence an underpass is needed."

In other action by the Basalt Town Council

The town government bought back land it had sold to the Roaring Fork Conservancy for its proposed River Center. The town purchased the property for $400,000 and will provide the conservancy with a long-term lease. That will free up funds the nonprofit organization needs for construction. The town also pledged $100,000 for infrastructure improvements. The site is on the west side of Rocky Mountain Institute's Innovation Center.

The council agreed to look into sending a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration to object to helicopter tours over the White River National Forest's designated wilderness areas. The tourist flights are being advertised by Aspen Heli Charter Tours. Councilman Herschel Ross said Aspen Times columnist Paul Andersen and others had contacted him about the issue. That wasn't exactly the case. Andersen said he posted a column he wrote about the topic on Facebook. Ross responded to that post. Ross clarified the exchange Thursday: "I was trying to say in the meeting Tuesday night that it was from him (back and forth through Facebook) that I found out that the FAA was the appropriate agency for the town to send a letter to."

The council approved a 1 percent fee on the cost of Basalt capital-improvement projects to support a town public art initiative. The fee would be applied to construction or remodeling of any town building, structure or park. Of the funds raised, at least 80 percent will be used for public art and no more than 20 percent will be deposited in a public arts trust fund for maintenance and administration of public art.

The council gave financial pledges needed so the WE-cycle bike-share program could move ahead with plans to start operating in downtown and Willits Town Center this summer. The town budgeted $60,000 for capital purchases and $40,000 for operations for 2016. WE-cycle is trying to raise a total of $540,000. It is short of its goal, but the town pledged additional funds necessary to lease equipment while the fundraising continues.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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