Aspen council isn’t biting on further study largely of the Preferred Alternative of Entrance to Aspen
Editor’s note: CORRECTION — Due to an error in editing, reference to a referendum on the Entrance to Aspen in 2010 was incorrect in the story on Tuesday about the issue. The last referendum on an Entrance to Aspen issue was in 2002, and the “S curve” solution was favored. A petition for a referendum in 2010 did not make the ballot. We apologize for the error, and corrected for it in the story below.
The so-called Preferred Alternative, established back in the 1990s, still might as well be called the Entrance to Nowhere as the Aspen City Council on Monday signaled little interest in staff recommendations to spend nearly $3 million in further study largely focused on it.
Besides, they had more basic questions to investigate. Such as could the Colorado Department of Transportation be right in asserting that no vote of Aspen’s voters is necessary in this decision?
How about the implicit threat in the same CDOT missive that the city continuing on a decades’ long path of doing next to nothing about the aging Castle Creek Bridge eventually would wind up with the state taking over should the bridge now on just this side of OK degrade further? CDOT made clear they would carry out the Preferred Alternative. That is, move the next bridge to a straight shot through the Marolt open space to Main Street.
Granted, the specter most likely is a decade to a decade and a half away, but in bridge project terms, that’s like tomorrow.
Still, three of the five council members expressed distaste to outright opposition for the Preferred Alternative and signaled they would oppose spending on the staff’s recommended phase 1 and phase II plan of further study.
Councilman Bill Guth, who lives in the most affected neighborhood, spoke of studying a web of traffic improvements and other bridge ideas, even another bridge over the power plant, saying there was no way he would vote for anything like the Preferred Alternative.
Mayor Torre observed the length of time of this debate — four decades or more — and how closely divided the community has been on the issue over the years. The most recent of 26 referendums on the Entrance to Aspen favored the S-curve entrance remaining, according to the Aspen Historical Society. A petition for a referendum in 2010 on a straight-shot to Main through the Marolt open space failed to make the ballot that year.
Councilman Sam Rose, while declaring he would not support the staff recommendations for further study, said he was after the most “graceful” of solutions, which might well be replacing the Castle Creek Bridge where it stands today. That would save the city time and expense from the anticipated litigation that surely would follow.
Councilmen Ward Hauenstein and John Doyle said they saw the virtues in the Preferred Alternative as the best solution but agreed they wanted a better understanding of what replacing the existing bridge at the same location would look like.
They also took in a more present specter: Wildfire evacuation.
Assistant Police Chief Bill Lynn told the council that evacuating Aspen from a wildfire today, with the current S curves and narrow bridge, would take 15 or more hours when the city is full during summer peak days. The Marolt pedestrian bridge is not a viable egress, and neither is the Rio Grande trail, he said.
Guth observed that wildfire threat is an issue now, and should be addressed now, independent of the Entrance to Aspen question, still at best many years from resolution.
The last City Council briefing about next steps to the Entrance to Aspen was on Feb. 13, before the March election that seated Rose and Guth. From that session, city staff took recommendations and created a two-phase request for proposals to consultants who would investigate the issue more thoroughly.
The first phase would be completed this year, would cost $1.2 million, and include traffic analysis for current demand, origin and destination of traffic, evacuation preparedness, existing conditions analysis, preferred alternative layout and a re-evaluation of the 1998 Federal Highway Administration record of decision laying out improvements to the Highway 82 corridor, including the entrance area.
The second phase, totaling an estimated $1.5 million, would have included more comprehensive public outreach, survey and project analysis, assessment of existing bridge and S-curves and schematic plans.
Instead of signing on, the council asked for more information about the viability of building a new bridge at the site of the current bridge, the costs and how that might be managed.
Staff will look into creating a narrow RFP specifically to a study of this question.
And City Attorney Jim True will investigate more closely whether his assertion that a citywide referendum would be necessary or if CDOT is correct in asserting that the city or state could impose the Preferred Alternative without such an election.
Doyle raised one other point: When construction begins on Lift One A some day in the future, thousands of dump truck loads bearing excavation materials out of town from the job site will strain the bridge further and possibly hasten degradation.
The countdown is under way.
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