Aspen City Council begins to peel back layers of Entrance to Aspen issue
Revisiting the 1998 record of decision for two-lane highway and light rail has more questions than answers
Aspen City Council on Monday revisited the long-debated Entrance to Aspen and has expressed a desire to see if there can be modifications to the state and federal government’s record of decision that was determined 23 years ago.
The record of decision’s preferred alternative signed off on by the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration identifies the entrance to Aspen as a two-lane parkway that goes under the Marolt-Thomas Open Space via a cut-and-cover tunnel that has a transit component including a light rail system and ends up on Seventh and Main streets leading to Rubey Park.
If local support and funding is not available for that alternative, exclusive bus lanes can be developed but only if it’s approved by city voters.
A majority of voters in 1996 authorized City Council to convey the right of way over the open space parcel for a two-lane parkway and corridor for light rail.
But there was no political will or funding at the time to move forward with the preferred alternative.
If the open space is to be used for any other purpose, such as four lanes of traffic or two lanes of traffic and two dedicated bus lanes, the question has to go back to city voters because there is not approval to use the property for anything other than two lanes of highway and light rail, according to John Krueger, the city’s director of transportation.
In 2001, a majority of Aspen voters said no to allowing a two-lane parkway and exclusive bus lanes.
In 2002, the majority of voters in both the city and Pitkin County voted to keep the entrance to Aspen going through the S-curves rather than the preferred alternative.
There are several elements of the preferred alternative that have been implemented, including the Maroon Creek roundabout; pedestrian overpasses over Maroon and Castle Creek roads; highway underpasses; in-town bus lanes; the realignment of Owl Creek Road and new traffic signals on Highway 82 and Buttermilk, as well as the replacement of the Maroon Creek Bridge, which CDOT gave a safety rating of 8 out of 100, according to Krueger.
The Castle Creek Bridge will eventually need to be replaced, and council members asked Krueger to research what the lifespan and safety rating is of that section of Highway 82.
Because the road is a state highway, it will be CDOT’s financial responsibility to replace the bridge.
“I think there is no question that we have to replace the Castle Creek Bridge, and if it fails before we have another Castle Creek Bridge, we’re screwed,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said.
With the cost of light rail estimated at over $600 million, Hauenstein asked if state and federal transportation officials would consider a trackless tram as an inexpensive alternative to light rail.
“I think the technology in the trackless tram is well worth spending some time investigating,” he said.
Also part of the preferred alternative, which considers the Entrance to Aspen from the Brush Creek Park and Ride into town, are two more intercept parking structures — one at the airport and one at Buttermilk.
Council asked for more details around those and their feasibility, particularly at Buttermilk where commuters could change from vehicles to alternative transit modes.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she’s like to look again at the re-evaluation done in 2007 on the record of decision and its accompanying federal environmental impact statement.
The results of that re-evaluation found that there were no significant changes and the preferred alternative was still valid.
But Richards wants more information about the number of buses needed for today’s commuting population, traffic counts that include Power Plant Road, as well as an analysis of how the workforce needs have changed.
“We want to solve for the right problem, we don’t want to solve for the problems we think we know or maybe it was a problem 20 years ago,” she said. “I think one of things that really has changed in my time was a concept that you get people to Rubey Park, the downtown core because that’s where the jobs are, … but we now see that every one of our residential neighborhoods are employment centers, whether it’s for construction, or short-term rentals, or just maintaining residences of people who can afford people to maintain their residences and their lifestyles.
“I want to get a better sense of what is the traffic we are trying to manage.”
The city’s transportation team will investigate those questions and more that council has and will return with answers for future deliberations.
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