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A pointless survey

Dear Editor:

For many years the idea that the highway into Aspen should be expanded to four lanes has been pitted against mass transit, particularly light rail, as though the two concepts were incompatible or mutually exclusive. This false dichotomy is obvious nonsense. Any local resident could easily favor building both a highway with the necessary capacity to relieve congestion and the snazziest mass-transit system that money can buy.

In 2005, a private survey determined that support for simply adding two additional highway lanes open to all vehicles was the preference of about 26 percent of extremely or very likely Aspen voters. The combination of four available lanes plus light rail garnered support from 28 percent. The coalition of these responses – the two highest recorded in the survey – represents the majority vote which would resolve the entrance issue.

On the assumption that those only interested in highway expansion will not begrudge rail supporters the opportunity to pursue their preference in the future, an issue committee called “Entrance Solution” (entrancesolution.com) circulated petitions for two versions of an entrance design that provide for a straightened and expanded highway with a “transit envelope next to the highway lanes.”

This “envelope” is not just transit lip service because construction of the new improved highway would need to include “bridge engineering sufficient to facilitate addition of a light rail transit system at such time as community support and financing become available” as a condition of voter approval. In other words, real money would be spent as part of constructing a new highway bridge to allow the future addition of light rail. This language is found in the petitions which the city is fighting in the courts to block from a public vote.

The Colorado Supreme Court may issue a ruling by the end of the year. If the city loses, the next step will be to set an election date. The procedures for initiative elections make coordination with standard November elections dates very difficult. Special elections are decided by voter turnout, generally very low, and turnout is decided by passion. Those who care the most are most likely to vote (or return a survey in the mail). The anti-highway group is avidly committed to punishing people for driving their vehicles, while many pro-highway people seem to find the issue about as compelling as the expansion of a water treatment plant.

So, along comes the city of Aspen’s mail-in survey, and the single largest category of preference on our survey (four lanes that everyone can use, plus light rail), is not even one of the choices offered on theirs. The four questions relating to specific design features are garbled messes where you might be able to piece together an indication of support for both light rail and an expanded highway – but it will depend on who is interpreting the results.

The combination of omissions and incoherence in the new survey, and the inherent skew introduced by the passion factor, makes it clear that the city is hoping for a very unclear result. The narrative that the community is hopelessly deadlocked, the issue will never be resolved, and therefore why even bother, is exactly the pitch the anti-highway contingent will make going into a special election in an effort to depress voter turnout.

If there is any other point or purpose to the current survey, it eludes me completely.

Jeffrey Evans

Basalt


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