Aspen City Council moves ahead with community education about aging bridge to town
Aspen City Council approved a public outreach and education program for the Entrance to Aspen project Monday night regarding the aging Castle Creek Bridge.
The New Castle Creek Bridge team will hold public hearings and site visits throughout December, with the first online event on Thursday.
Council will take public comment on the issue Tuesday during its regular meeting and discuss a possible ballot question that could be posed to city voters next year about the future of the Entrance to Aspen.
The focus of the Entrance to Aspen is the future of the Castle Creek Bridge, which Colorado Department of Transportation engineer Roland Wagner called, “functionally obsolete,” referring to its limited future at its current weight-bearing ability.
The work session was meant to focus on the effort to re-engage the public on an issue the city and county have wrestled with for the past 50 years, but council members spent much of the two-hour discussion laying out their respective positions and community input they have already received on the record of decision and preferred alternative decided by transportation officials in the late 1990s.
“I was hoping for more maybe comments towards what you saw tonight and the public outreach program that’s coming up, and not so much about personal endorsement about programs,” Mayor Torre said, although he strayed from the outreach topic as well during the discussion. “I really hope that we are going out to our community … to educate. I did not support an advocacy campaign from this table at this time. So hopefully we’re still on that path.”
The record of decision’s preferred alternative signed off on by CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration identifies the entrance 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.
While that plan has lain dormant due to negating public votes and conflicting political wills, the record of decision was revisited in 2007, but there was no consensus in the community to carry it forward.
The Castle Creek Bridge was built in 1961 with an anticipated 75-year “lifetime” of functional use. For the past several bi-annual CDOT inspections, the bridge has performed just above the department’s threshold sufficiency rate before the state mandates improvements. The Castle Creek Bridge scored 52.4 out of 100 in its September 2020 inspection.
Now the community must decide whether to do nothing and allow CDOT to take over maintenance, or move forward with the preferred alternative and the record of decision.
Due to past strong opinions and political stalemates, council members decided ahead of the work session Monday that the issue needs to be put to voters via a ballot measure.
“I think the longer we wait, the likelier we are to end up with a worst-case-scenario,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, adding she is in favor of the issue appearing on the ballot in the March 2023 election.
Other council members, including Torre, favored pushing the issue’s appearance on a ballot until more community and council questions can be answered.
As Councilman Ward Hauenstein pointed out, “A lot of folks living here in town were never here in ‘93, ‘94,” thus necessitating a need for more time for community education.
Tenants at the city’s oldest deed-restricted housing complex, Centennial Apartments, faced rent hikes as high as 30% in January that sent city, county, and APCHA officials into closed-door meetings with the relatively new landlord, Birge & Held.