Ponte Vecchio it’s not, but Basalt bridge has potential | AspenTimes.com

Ponte Vecchio it’s not, but Basalt bridge has potential

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BASALT – Basalt is considering an $80,000 project to make the old 7-Eleven bridge a more attractive place to hang out along the town’s riverfront and a more inviting link in the pedestrian trail system.

A group of residents and business owners want the town to use money from its open space and trails fund to make the improvements. Architect Harry Teague, who walks or rides his bike across the bridge nearly every day, is helping head the effort.

“Every day I say, ‘Boy, what an opportunity,'” Teague told the Basalt Town Council this week. Who knows, he kidded with the board, maybe the 7-Eleven bridge could even be the second coming of the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy. That bridge is famous for the shops built into its structure and the vendor booths.

The old Basalt bridge is part of a pedestrian corridor that is heavily used but not very attractive. That is starting to change. The town government landscaped a vacant lot between the Basalt Store gas station and the bridge.

Commuters who get off the bus at the Basalt Store often use the bridge to access the town core. The bridge is also heavily used by cyclists traveling between downtown Basalt and the Rio Grande Trail. The structure provides great views up and down the river. It is situated close to the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers.

“It’s the bridge to somewhere,” Teague quipped.

The bridge, also known as the Emma Bridge, was decommissioned in the 1990s when Basalt built the new Midland Avenue Bridge across the Roaring Fork River. The bridge was left in place for pedestrians. Boulders were placed at either end to prevent vehicles from entering.

The town’s 2002 River Master Plan calls for the structure to be removed and replaced. The existing bridge creates one of the worst constrictions on the Roaring Fork River because its design required placing piers in the river. Over the years, material has built up under one side of the bridge, forcing the water to the other side.

“It’s a flood control disaster,” Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane said.

However, replacement isn’t imminent. The town doesn’t have the funds to rebuild the bridge, so the citizens’ committee wants to improve the existing eyesore.

Teague proposed improvements that include creating a central space with landscaping and benches that divides the bridge surface into two distinct lanes. Additional landscaping on the ends of the bridge would guide users into specific channels while also shielding them from views of the 7-Eleven dumpster and an adjacent mobile home park. The committee hopes to pursue the project next year.

The Town Council was supportive of the plan. Councilman Glenn Rappaport is a member of the committee throwing around ideas on the design.

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt called the plan “a great idea.”

“This bridge seems like a park to me,” she said.

Councilwoman Karin Teague, who is married to Harry Teague, said $80,000 for the project “is a bargain.” The project would create an important pedestrian connection in a town that’s done “a lousy job” creating effective pedestrian ways, she said.

The citizens’ committee, including Harry Teague and Rappaport, are volunteering their effort, town officials said. Therefore, there was no conflict for Rappaport or Karin Teague to participate in discussions about the idea.

No vote was taken. Mayor Leroy Duroux said the project needs to be scrutinized during the town’s budget process, which starts later this month.

“Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money that’s going to be gone,” Duroux said. Perhaps it would be best to save that money for the ultimate project of removing and replacing the bridge, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com