Aspen ready for phase I of Entrance | AspenTimes.com

Aspen ready for phase I of Entrance

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen may petition the state to build the first phase of the Entrance to Aspen ? from Buttermilk to the roundabout ? and look at how to improve the S-curves now that voters have nixed the straight shot.

Four council members agreed Monday they’d like city staffers to draft a resolution asking the Colorado Department of Transportation to move forward with an expanded highway ? two lanes for vehicles and two dedicated bus lanes ? between Buttermilk and the Maroon Creek Road roundabout.

The direction came at an eight-hour retreat at the Aspen Alps, where the council gathered to discuss a broad range of policy issues, including transportation.

The final piece of the Entrance to Aspen ? from the roundabout into town ? is likely to be the focus of future discussions. There are possible upgrades to the highway, along its existing alignment through the S-curves, that should be explored, said Councilman Terry Paulson.

“There are at least 10 possibilities,” he said. “I think it deserves a work session.”

Paulson, however, was the only council member opposed to asking the state to move forward with improvements to Highway 82 between Buttermilk and the roundabout, including a new bridge over Maroon Creek.

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The two-lane highway and two bus lanes in that stretch would require authorization from city voters, necessitating yet another vote on the Entrance to Aspen, according to Randy Ready, assistant city manager.

But, since the Colorado Transportation Commission is currently wrapping up its new prioritized list of future transportation projects, most council members don’t want to wait for another vote before pushing to make the Buttermilk-to-roundabout piece a funding priority. That stretch would cost an estimated $30 million, Ready said.

Paulson called for the vote first, accusing the rest of the council of “putting the cart before the horse” yet again.

This year, a majority of the council voted to convey the easement for a new highway alignment to the state before polling voters anew on the subject. In November, Aspen and Pitkin County voters rejected the new alignment, the so-called straight shot that would route the highway across open space and over a new Castle Creek bridge between the roundabout and the upper end of Main Street.

“Terry, I hear what you’re saying, but it’s not the same situation,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “It’s not the same thing. Nothing is being given away.”

In 1996, city voters approved a two-lane highway and light-rail corridor from Buttermilk into town, across the new alignment. Because that vote did not authorize bus lanes on the open space, another vote would be necessary, Ready explained.

About half of the 8.6-acre easement conveyed to CDOT involves open space between Buttermilk and the roundabout, he said.

Klanderud questioned why that stretch can’t simply become an extension of what will exist up to Buttermilk ? two unrestricted highway lanes and two HOV lanes ? without another vote.

The city can’t argue that the environmental impact statement for the entrance precludes bus lanes across the Marolt-Thomas Open Space without a vote, but allows bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout, said City Attorney John Worcester.

“It cuts both ways,” he said.

If four lanes (including two bus lanes) are built from Buttermilk to the roundabout with a new Maroon Creek bridge, the existing bridge would be reverted to its original width as a railroad trestle and retained in the event light rail comes to pass in the future, Ready said.

The potential for light rail and completing an entrance over the straight shot alignment at some point would remain, Councilman Tim Semrau noted.

“It would still actually leave every option open,” he said.

Left up in the air was the fate of the straight-shot easement over the Marolt-Thomas property. Council members were unsure yesterday whether they should work on reacquiring that piece of the easement from CDOT in light of last month’s vote.

The easement transfer was part of a broader land deal between CDOT, the city and Pitkin County. Undoing part of it would be a complex undertaking, Worcester said.

Nonetheless, at least three members of the council indicated they’d like to meet behind closed doors to discuss what that action would entail.

“I’d like to know,” Semrau said.

At this point, CDOT can’t use the easement for anything but what was approved by voters ? a two-lane parkway and light-rail corridor, Worcester advised.

He compared the easement to a landing strip for alien spaceships. Until the spaceships are ready to land, it can’t be used for anything else, Worcester said.

“Until there’s a train proposal that’s real, what CDOT has is an easement that’s totally useless,” Worcester said. “The question is, do you want to take back an easement that is, in many ways, meaningless?”

“Yes,” Paulson replied.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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