Aspen gets heads up on bridge closure, offers housing during 3-month period
The traffic hassles associated with next month’s closing of the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs can be tempered if motorists and commuters are willing to change their transportation habits, a Colorado Department of Transportation official told a gathering of people Wednesday in Aspen.
“If we just keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to look like Denver traffic,” CDOT spokesman Tracy Trulove told a group of fewer than 20 people, from contractors to hospital officials, at Aspen City Hall.
Trulove was mainly referring to gridlock that will be spawned by the three-month bridge detour, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 14. That’s a Monday, the first day of the traditional workweek for many who use Highway 82 to commute to Aspen from Glenwood Springs and other communities along the Interstate 70.
Local entities are trying to help offset the anticipated traffic woes, including providing housing and handing out bus passes.
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The city of Aspen is offering 40 units from its 100-unit Marolt Ranch complex, which is seasonal dormitory-style housing, to employers for $1,500 a month during that period, property manager Patrick Hinch told the gathering. Half of those units will be available for rent Sept. 1, the other half Sept. 8.
On Tuesday, the City Council agreed to extend the permitted construction hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, adding 90 minutes to each side of the day to ease the traffic sting for contractors and their subs. Only interior work will be allowed during those three extra hours.
Aspen Valley Hospital is providing free public-bus passes to its employees who commute to help offset the traffic. And such Glenwood Springs retailers as Wal-Mart and American Furniture Warehouse are providing free parking for commuters who want to carpool or commute to work on bicycles.
“Changing human behavior — it’s going to be tough,” Trulove said.
CDOT estimates it will take 95 days before the new traffic bridge opens. Initially, it will be open one way in each direction. The agency is encouraging people to carpool, ride a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus, change work schedules and avoid rush hours, among other suggestions.
Trulove said CDOT’s goal is to reduce vehicle traffic by 35 percent, which equates to 700 vehicles per hour. Achieving that goal could reduce gridlock from one-hour waits to 15 minutes on the detour route from the I-70 exit 114 interchange to 27th Street in Glenwood Springs.
Aspen Chamber Resort Association membership director Erik Klanderud said the chamber will allow its commuting workers to telecommute during the three months. A Denver Broncos fan, Klanderud said some of the team’s best home games will happen during the bridge closure.
He said he’ll take Independence Pass to Denver so long as it is open, but after mid-September, he noted, all bets are off when it comes to adverse weather conditions and whether the scenic shortcut to Denver will be open.
Independence Pass normally closes to vehicular traffic at the winter gate, about 10 miles east of Aspen, on Nov. 1 and re-opens Memorial Day weekend. However, it also has closed earlier in the fall because of early-season snow. Trulove said in June that CDOT would try to keep the pass open until Thanksgiving as long as avalanche conditions are safe.
Another possible option is Cottonwood Pass in Gypsum. Trulove, however, said that is not a state road and she wasn’t suggesting people use that route, which goes to the Glenwood Springs area. Like Independence Pass, Cottonwood is a seasonal road but has about an 11-mile stretch at the top that is dirt and gravel.
“You need to be prepared,” cautioned John Krueger, the city’s transportation director, “because there’s no Triple-A (American Automobile Association service that helps stranded motorists) coming up there.”
More details on the bridge closure and its impacts are available at grandavebridge.codot.gov and facebook.com/GrandAveBridgeProject.
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