Aspen lane closure creates massive gridlock on Main Street | AspenTimes.com

Aspen lane closure creates massive gridlock on Main Street

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Traffic backs up before the S-curves on westbound Main Street in Aspen Thursday evening. Emergency dispatchers said massive numbers of motorists trying to leave town in the same time period appeared to be the cause. No major accidents west of town were reported. Some roadside maintenance work in the roundabout that reduced traffic to one lane also contributed to the problem.

A construction crew working on west-bound Highway 82 reduced roundabout access to one lane Thursday evening, creating a backup that extended to South Galena Street and prompted the Aspen Police Department to devote six officers to the mess for nearly two hours.

Transportation Director John Krueger said the construction crew working for Century Link cable received its permits from the Colorado Department of Transportation, as Highway 82 is a state road. Aspen's Engineering Department and police contacted the crew Friday about clearing the roadway and putting the work on hold until after the holidays.

"We're in contact now that it's created some issues," said Senior Project Engineer Tyler Christoff. "From my last conversation with them, when I asked them to politely leave, they're not occupying the lanes and they'll be gone by 3 p.m. (Friday)."

Police Chief Richard Pryor said officers were directing traffic for about 90 minutes, until 6:40 p.m., when congestion began to clear. He said it was not just the work crew but traffic volume, icy conditions and well-known infrastructure issues that created the traffic jam, extending rush hour by at least an hour.

According to Krueger, traffic volumes were between 800 and 900 vehicles per hour, an average amount for this time of year. The crew has been working on the project, which he said involved wire splicing, for at least a week.

Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said it was understood by the crew that the city needed it to clear the way by 3 p.m. each day, but it's unclear if that was the case. Crook personally dealt with the congestion Wednesday, and decided not to leave work Thursday until after 6:30 p.m.

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Pryor apologized for the inconvenience and thanked drivers for their patience.

"We're working on plans to minimize future impacts," Pryor said. "The Police Department itself — we're working out how to be quicker and a bit more responsive."

He said that devoting six officers to a traffic jam is a big deal in a small town, and had other issues arisen, Pryor would have called off one of the six officers directing traffic.

Aspen School District bus driver Brad Ongsard, a retired Aspen police officer who was not affected by the congestion, said he stopped into the City Manager's Office on Thursday evening to see what could be done. While he said Assistant City Manager Randy Ready was helpful, the S-curve congestion problem has been an ongoing and growing problem for years.

"If you're a commuter, you're backed up to the airport almost every day getting into town, and it's the same thing leaving town," he said. "Even when the town isn't busy, it's quicker, but it still needs to be addressed."

On Thursday night, he heard that drivers were trying to bypass the congestion through the West End, creating another problem on Power Plant Road and Cemetery Lane.

"This is to the City Council, the mayor, city/county managers and Board of County Commissioners," Ongsard wrote recently in an Aspen Times letter to the editor (see page 11). "It is time to get out from your desks and see what is happening in this town."

herk@aspentimes.com

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