Alliance mulls joining battle | AspenTimes.com

Alliance mulls joining battle

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Common Sense Alliance, no stranger to the Roaring Fork Valley’s transportation debate, may join the Entrance to Aspen fray with its own proposal to solve the seemingly endless debate on the topic.

The coalition has crafted a question and is testing the waters to see if a group of Aspenites is interested in circulating a citizens’ initiative petition to put it on the ballot, in either November or next May, according to Jeffrey Evans, treasurer and spokesman for the group.

“It might be time for someone from the outside to propose a compromise. That’s what we’re talking about,” he said.

Essentially, the alliance is proposing a four-lane highway with two HOV lanes linking the Maroon Creek Road roundabout to the upper end of Main Street, across the Marolt-Thomas Open Space.

“A majority of people in Aspen might be able to support it, if anybody ever bothered to ask them,” Evans said.

The proposal would extend into Aspen what has already been built from Basalt to Buttermilk, except in Snowmass Canyon, where the expansion of Highway 82 is still under way, he noted. The expanded highway includes four lanes of general traffic, with designated High Occupancy Vehicle, or HOV, lanes during peak commuting hours.

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It might make sense to ask the four-lane/HOV question next spring, when Aspenites will be electing a mayor and two council members, Evans added. That way, a slate of candidates who support the entrance proposal could seek office at the same time city voters are considering the entrance question.

“You have to be able to vote people into office who are willing to accept the will of the electorate,” Evans said.

The alliance is a political-action group that has campaigned on past transportation-related ballot issues, opposing rail and formation of the valleywide transportation district that funds mass transit, among other stands. Its membership varies, depending on the issue, Evans said.

Most recently, the alliance helped instigate a petition drive to put an initiative before Aspen voters in November 1999 that would have authorized funding for a light-rail system from the airport into town. As an alternative, the question also provided for construction of a two-lane highway with two lanes of phased, exclusive bus lanes as the mass-transit component under a state-sponsored plan for realigning and expanding Highway 82 into Aspen.

The alliance then campaigned against the ballot measure, Initiative 200, which was defeated at the polls.

What to do with the final leg of Highway 82, from the roundabout into town, is the subject of the controversial Entrance to Aspen debate. The issue has heated up again with a citizens’ initiative from a group of Aspenites who oppose rerouting the highway over open space on the outskirts of town.

The Aspen City Council has scheduled another work session on Monday to debate whether it wants to put an entrance question on the November ballot.

Voters approved a two-lane highway, plus a light-rail corridor, across the open space in 1996. In May 2001, city voters rejected dedicated bus lanes proposed as an interim transit measure, given the vote against rail funding in 1999. Also in 2001, voters rejected a proposal to leave the highway on its existing alignment, but install a roundabout at the Cemetery Lane intersection.

The proposed entrance question drafted by the alliance reads: “Shall the City of Aspen be authorized and directed to take all steps necessary to expand environmental approvals for the Entrance to Aspen to allow a configuration of two highway lanes for general traffic and two lanes designated as High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, to be built and managed in coordination with HOV lanes between Basalt and Buttermilk Ski Area; and shall successful completion of that process represent final approval to proceed with construction of this highway configuration in accordance with all other design elements for the preferred alternative, including those intended to allow future construction of a rail component pending separate voter approval, as described in the Record of Decision for the Entrance to Aspen?”

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

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