A little S-curves relief in sight? | AspenTimes.com

A little S-curves relief in sight?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Enthused by a citizen committee’s ideas to improve traffic flow at the entrance to town, Aspen City Council members agreed Monday to get right on it ” sort of.

Some of the recommendations can probably be implemented quickly and at little cost, noted Mayor Helen Klanderud. Others are going to require review and approval by the Colorado Department of Transportation. How long that will take is anybody’s guess.

Nonetheless, the task force assigned to figure out how to relieve congestion in the S-curves has come up with a credible overall proposal, council members agreed.

A lot of the ideas have surfaced before, Klanderud said, but no one had explored them as an integrated package. The task force has recommended a series of small changes that, taken as a whole, may make a difference, said group member Donna Fisher.

“People are always wary of change, but a lot of these are good ideas,” she said.

“I think, cumulatively, it could make a significant difference,” said Councilman Tim Semrau. “In our lifetime, we could see some kind of relief.”

“I think you guys have done good work,” agreed Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

The council appointed the 13-member task force last July after voters endorsed the existing Highway 82 alignment in a November 2002 election. The group was divided between ardent supporters of the highway’s existing route through the S-curves ” where the highway narrows to two lanes and winds through two 90-degree turns ” and the so-called “straight shot” plan to realign the highway and bypass the S-curves.

Councilman Terry Paulson said he anticipated “serious bloodshed” when the group convened. John Krueger, the city’s transportation manager, feared he’d been handed the “assignment from hell” when he was picked to work with the group.

“I think you have done a phenomenal job,” Klanderud said. “You’re a committee made up of polarized positions and you pulled it off. I think you came up with some great suggestions.”

The recommendations include closing off some alley and street access to the highway in the S-curves; allowing only right turns in and out at other intersections; creating an outbound, buses-only lane on Main Street during the afternoon commute; and pedestrian improvements such as sidewalks where they don’t exist now, wider walkways on a beautified Castle Creek bridge and a pedestrian-activated, flashing signal at an Eighth Street crosswalk.

A Main Street alternating signal that directs two lanes of outbound traffic to merge into one is proposed between Fifth and Sixth streets. Currently, motorists back up in the right lane to head out of town because that’s where they need to be when they reach the S-curves. Drivers who speed ahead in the left lane and then merge are viewed as “cheaters” even though both lanes are supposed to be handling the traffic.

At Cemetery Lane, only right lanes would be permitted onto the highway. Cemetery Lane motorists heading into town would have to loop around the roundabout and come back toward Aspen.

Inbound traffic on the highway would never have to stop at Cemetery Lane. Outbound traffic would only get a red light when there are enough inbound cars waiting to make a left onto Cemetery Lane. At other times, motorists who want to make a left onto Cemetery Lane would get a flashing signal that allows them to proceed when there’s a break in traffic.

“We believe this can be done. It can be tried,” said task force member Kip Wheeler.

Council members worried, though, that Cemetery Lane traffic will use the shortcut into town on Power Plant Road.

“Nobody likes to go backward to go forward,” Klanderud said.

Motorists will discover the shortcut doesn’t save time, especially if the city puts up a few more stop signs on the route, task force members said.

Klanderud also questioned the suggestion to prohibit turns in either direction onto Main Street from Fifth and Sixth streets.

CDOT may decide a traffic signal is needed on the upper end of Main Street anyway, Richards said. It’s already difficult to make a left turn onto Main from the West End, she said.

Council members directed staffers to explore what steps can be done quickly and at what cost, as well as what needs to happen to take some of the ideas to CDOT.

“There’s very little in this that I see that would eliminate anything else in the future,” Klanderud said. “In that sense, it’s not difficult to implement it.

“Clearly, this is going to require the input of the rest of the community,” she said.

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

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