As development chugs along, why can’t we? | AspenTimes.com
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As development chugs along, why can’t we?

John Colson

Next time rush-hour gridlock on Highway 82 has you trapped, think about this: The Roaring Fork Valley is nowhere near the potential build-out of all the development projects already on the books in one form or another, and our construction culture shows no sign of slowing down, despite a widespread belief among non-builders that maybe, just maybe, we’ve already passed the saturation point.

Make no mistake about it, this is not a ski valley any more. It’s a developer’s wet dream, as local governments seem to throw up their hands and concede that this region already is urban in nature.

So, the thinking seems to be, why not just keep piling it on?

I’m thinking right now of Pat Smith’s plans for Cattle Creek Crossing, a project of nearly 1,000 housing units at the mouth of Cattle Creek as it intersects Highway 82, between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

The place can’t in any way be called a pristine bit of land, since it’s already been the site of an automobile junkyard, a go-cart track and now a small commercial center.

And, we should keep in mind, it’s in Garfield County, historically the kind of place where developers could count on taking elected officials out to dinner one night and winning approval of their projects the next morning.

But, then again, even Garfield County government has been known to take a step back and deny projects that were too outlandish, or obviously nothing but a greed-based grab at a quick buck with no socially redeeming value.

Back in the early 1980s, for instance, there was a proposal to build something called Crown Meadows at the base of Mount Sopris above Carbondale in Garfield County. A band of speculators wanted to put more than 1,000 homes on the mesa above Carbondale, with scarcely a thought for traffic impacts, water-quality issues and other potential problems.

Even the Garfield County commissioners couldn’t swallow that, and the project died.

Then there was the recent attempt to put a new commercial and retail center at the intersection of Highway 82 and Garfield County Road 100 (Catherine Store). The landowner said it was something the community wanted, and the community turned on him like mad dogs smelling blood. The project was denied.

Pat Smith is smarter than a lot of developers, though, and he’s already making noises about how his project will solve the region’s housing crisis. Haven’t we heard this before, only to watch as houses get built and then sold at prices most working stiffs can even think about? He’ll probably prevail, though ” it’s just the way of things.

I’ve about given up calling for local governments to slow down the growth juggernaut. Some bureaucrats and elected officials genuinely are alarmed by what’s going on and would like to do something about it, but America is the land where money is king, growth is our god, and the courts and the laws are rigged to keep it that way.

We may as well admit it, it won’t be long before the rush-hour traffic jams will stretch from Canyon Creek, west of Glenwood Springs on I-70, all the way to Aspen, with traffic lights every half-mile or so, houses on all sides, strip malls adorning every intersection, and only the occasional bit of open ground to relieve our weary eyes.

But before we get there, let’s think again about using mass transit to ease the congestion, specifically a train from Glenwood to Aspen.

The buses are already maxed-out, carrying 4.5 million passengers a year. And the bus honchos are saying they can’t keep things running without increased subsidies.

Well, I say let’s just concede the highways to the construction workers and the service vehicles. They own the road already, and although they’re not yet actively aiming at the rest of us with their big trucks and vans, sometimes it seems as though Mad Max is at the wheel behind me, and those headlights are getting awfully close.

So, let’s build a train and those of us who don’t need to have a vehicle nearby our workplace can choose between two much more civilized modes of transport ” trains and buses ” and forget about the highway.

There is no single solution to our transportation puzzle, but at some point we will all realize that we need every possible tool at our disposal to simply keep this valley moving, including a train.

Why can’t we realize that sooner, rather than later?


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