City rejects bridge upgrades | AspenTimes.com

City rejects bridge upgrades

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

In the face of criticism over a proposed resolution asking the state to expedite the replacement of the Maroon Creek bridge, the Aspen City Council tossed up its hands in frustration and voted unanimously against the measure.

As it stands now, the city won’t affirm its support for improvements to the stretch of Highway 82 between Buttermilk and the roundabout, including replacement of the aging bridge.

That segment had been the one component of the ever-controversial Entrance to Aspen that council members believed had the community’s support.

“A year ago, it was the only thing we could agree on ? it was the one thing the community could agree on,” said Councilman Tim Semrau. “I think it’s really ironic that the one little thing we thought we could do is starting to fall apart.”

Council members were well into their fourth hour of a long night when a handful of citizens began questioning the council’s motives for putting it forward.

In the end, the council rejected a request from several citizens to table the matter until the new year and instead simply voted it down, 5-0.

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“Clearly, after 30 years, we are as unclear on this issue as we’ve ever been,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

Citizens who spoke against quick passage of the resolution didn’t question the need to replace the bridge, built as a railroad trestle in 1888, but called for additional language in the measure.

Several also suggested the city should work on getting the easement across the Marolt-Thomas property back from the Colorado Department of Transportation first, now that voters have rejected a new alignment of the highway across that open space.

“I was flabbergasted you all would bring this resolution forward in light of this last election,” said former Mayor Bill Stirling, one of several members of the Citizens for a Small Town Entrance in the audience.

The group opposed the new alignment of the highway across the open space between the roundabout and the upper end of Main Street, as did the majority of Aspen and Pitkin County voters.

Given the outcome of the November election, the city should be pressing to get the easement back before it does anything else, Stirling argued.

“Work on that first. Let’s see if it’s even possible to get it back,” he said.

“Why can’t you do both at the same time?” Klanderud responded. “I’m not quite sure what the necessity in this delay is.”

“Who’s urging you to do this?” Stirling asked.

“I’m urging myself, for one,” Klanderud said.

The city has asked City Attorney John Worcester to explore the legal ramifications of reacquiring the easement, Semrau added.

Citizens also suggested the city explore mass-transit options that would reduce pressure on the bridge ? free bus travel for commuters was offered as an example.

And resident Lenir Drake suggested the resolution should address improvements to the existing S-curves alignment, once the city has explored those options.

Under a plan for the Entrance to Aspen approved by voters in 1996, a two-lane parkway and light-rail corridor would carry traffic from Buttermilk into town, across the new open space alignment. The route would bypass the S-curves, which funnel traffic through two 90-degree turns in the West End.

Several subsequent defeats at the polls, including the vote against the new alignment last month, left the council eyeing what could be done with the Buttermilk-to-roundabout stretch, including replacement of the bridge. Since light rail isn’t in the forecast, two lanes of general traffic plus dedicated bus lanes were identified as a possible option.

With a new bridge over Maroon Creek, the old trestle would be retained for a future light-rail line, if it is ever built.

“You want to kill the train. We’re going to kill the train,” Councilman Tom McCabe observed shortly before the vote.

Despite last night’s vote, Klanderud predicted the issue will be back before the council in 2003.

“Obviously, we’re not going to put this to bed,” she said.

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

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