Aspen bus lanes approach finish line
ASPEN ” By the end of this month, getting in and out of Aspen will be a faster and more of a hassle-free proposition ” if you’re on the bus.
Dedicated bus lanes from Buttermilk to the Maroon Creek roundabout, which Aspen voters approved in May 2007, will be completed within two weeks.
“They are ahead of schedule,” said Assistant City Manager Randy Ready. “They should be done in a week or so, weather dependent.”
The Entrance to Aspen has been under construction ever since the $9 million project began in April. City voters approved $7.8 million in funding for the project but like most things these days, the cost has gone up.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee is paying for the bus-lane project. The EOTC is made up of elected representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, and is in charge of spending the proceeds of a half-cent tax assessed by the county.
The only work left is landscaping along the 1.2-mile stretch. However, the whole project stretches 3 miles because the bus lanes start at the Aspen Airport Business Center. A section from the ABC to Buttermilk has been open for months, allowing buses to whiz past idling vehicles stuck in traffic.
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship said that section alone shaves four or five minutes in travel time for bus riders. Once the entire stretch is complete, Blankenship estimates a trip from Rubey Park to the Intercept Lot at Brush Creek will take 15 minutes on the bus. For cars, it can take up to 25 minutes during peak traffic times. With dedicated bus lanes along Main Street that have been in place for a while, the mass transit commute in and out of Aspen should be seamless once the entire stretch is done, Blankenship said. He added that it took up to 40 minutes to get from Rubey Park to Cemetery Lane before the Main Street lanes were bus only.
As for the dedicated bus lanes west of Main Street, the project is ahead of schedule. Castle Rock Construction, the Denver-based firm handling the project, had a final deadline of Dec. 1.
“Castle Rock has really been on it and the weather has been cooperative,” said John Krueger, transportation manager for the city. “With 27,000 cars coming in and out a day, they’ve done a pretty good job.”
That’s with the exception of a few glitches, like paving during peak traffic times when the work backed cars up on Main Street to Original Curve last month.
The 73-foot-wide Maroon Creek Bridge has been open to pedestrians and bicyclists for a few months. Once the bus lane project is complete, there will be no more impediments for commuters. There will be two lanes for buses, two lanes for traffic and a 12-foot bike lane on the north side of the bridge.
Vehicle lanes on Highway 82 coming into Aspen have been narrowed by a foot and are now 11 feet wide. The bus lanes also are 11 feet wide, Ready said.
A ribbon cutting for the opening of the new lanes is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Oct. 20.
The mass transit lanes are the closest to an Entrance to Aspen solution that valley residents will see.
That’s because there is no money in state’s coffers. The state government anticipates it will have $189 million less in fiscal year 2008 for its transportation budget than it had in 2007. And current projections for 2009 indicate funding for the Colorado Department of Transportation will drop another $360 million.
The gloomy funding prospects have forced CDOT to dedicate its limited resources to maintaining existing roadways rather than build new projects. That suggests that when the city of Aspen finishes adding bus lanes on Highway 82 west of Aspen, what commuters will see is what they will get for quite some time.
Unresolved is the longer-term vision of the Highway 82 alignment into the city. Some residents favor retaining the S-curves; others want a straight shot between the new bridge and the west end of Main Street. The debate has simmered at times and boiled at others since 1970. The city government stoked the planning process early last year but recently has let the broader debate slide to the back burner while concentrating on the bus lanes.
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After nine months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Wheeler Opera House will reopen for local acts. A touchless reservation system will be open to 53 people for in-person at the venue. Online live streaming also will be available.