Citizens show up in full force for Entrance forum | AspenTimes.com

Citizens show up in full force for Entrance forum

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

ASPEN More than 60 Aspen residents peered into Pandora’s Box at an open forum Wednesday night at Aspen High School to discuss solutions to the longstanding Entrance to Aspen conundrum.Michael Herman, a professional consultant from Chicago, led the forum, where citizens drummed up topics, convened discussion groups and presented findings.The forum came after a work session Tuesday in which the City Council directed staff to draft a ballot initiative for the May elections. The initiative would pave the way for two designated bus lanes and two lanes of general traffic from Buttermilk across the new Maroon Creek Bridge and as far as the roundabout.Aspen residents had the opportunity to chime in on that and other options, ranging from a gondola system that would carry the more than 1 million visitors to the resorts, to keeping the current alignment and improving traffic management.”We’ve tried a lot of other things that didn’t work. Could it get any worse?” said former Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, who led a group that focused on land use and growth.

“Rail option” “Save Marolt Open Space” and “Improve Gridlock Now” read some of the 23 signs on the wall. “There are a limited amount of possibilities,” said County Commissioner Jack Hatfield. He said he hopes for the “vote to end all votes” on the issue, and a solution that incorporates transit and general traffic entering the city: “It’s time to have a solution and cut the politics.”But Hatfield chimed in that the forum was too “feel-good” and not so practical.Herman, however, said the forum is a way to hear from everyone before narrowing the discussion.”The agenda is theirs for generating the ideas that reach a solution,” Herman said.

“We’ll see,” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud of Wednesday’s informal forum. While churning up debate that might create division, she said, “We may get a whole new idea about what to do with this highway.””We’re committed to doing something different,” said Randy Ready, Aspen’s assistant city manager, about Wednesday’s experiment. He hopes the process will result in community consensus if possible.”We’re thrilled with the turnout,” Ready said. After multiple efforts in which the city took the lead, he said this solution was different: turning to citizens to see what they think.The results of Tuesday’s meeting, and a second meeting planned for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the school, will go into a “meeting-in-a-box” kit that will circulate to ad hoc groups throughout the community. The kit will include the Entrance to Aspen video, as well as an animation video, now in development, that will depict the different options for the entrance.The process will end with a community forum April 12 at the Wheeler Opera House, where residents will have a chance to vote on questions in real time.

Ready said the city has the funds to build two lanes of general traffic and light rail as far as the roundabout. But building two lanes designated for buses instead of rail as far as the roundabout would require a ballot question in May.”Tonight is a chance for people to say how visionary we want to be,” said Joe Elsen, program engineer with Colorado Department of Transportation. Elsen noted it is important to look closely at the preferred alternative: realigning Highway 82 across the Marolt Open Space, a cut-and-cover tunnel and a new bridge over Castle Creek that carries two lanes of general traffic and two transit lanes. He encouraged residents to consider the objective in a city focused on staying green and consider the future, including traffic that could more than double. “Do we want more cars?” Elsen asked. “It’s important to talk.” Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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