Aspen mulls bridge options
State highway officials are studying options for replacing the Maroon Creek bridge, including construction of a span that’s simply a new version of what currently exists.Before design work begins, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) must figure out exactly what should replace the aging, two-lane structure that currently carries Highway 82 over the Maroon Creek gorge on the outskirts of Aspen.Constructing the bridge envisioned in the plans for the Entrance to Aspen – two lanes for general traffic, two dedicated bus lanes and a bike/pedestrian lane – would require a re-evaluation of the environmental impact statement and record of decision, according to Ed Fink, CDOT regional transportation director for Region 3.Those documents, which lay out the plan for the Entrance to Aspen, including realigning the highway and the new, wider bridge, are old enough that they require updating before anything is built, CDOT and Federal Highway Administration officials have concluded, Fink said.The re-evaluation could cost $2 million to $3 million or more, and require more than a year to complete. Cash-strapped CDOT isn’t going to undertake that expense without any funds on the horizon to build the bridge, Fink said. The re-evaluation, too, could become obsolete before construction funds for the bridge materialize, he said. However, a new two-lane bridge could be built without updating the environmental impact statement and the record of decision, Fink said.”We can replace the bridge without getting into the EIS. We’re exploring some of that,” he confirmed Friday. “You can come in anywhere and replace a bridge with something similar to what’s there now without doing a whole new EIS.”Right now, we’re trying to figure out what we can do without triggering a whole new EIS.”Fink is scheduled to meet with elected officials from the upper valley in August to discuss the bridge.The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of elected representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, has agreed to spend $1.5 million in local transportation funds to finish the design work for a new bridge. Until recently, however, public discussion has focused solely on construction of the bridge that was analyzed as part of the Entrance to Aspen.Before the design money is spent, CDOT is giving some further analysis to what will be built.”We do want to proceed with designing that replacement structure,” Fink said. “Once we have those drawings on the shelf, we’ll be in a better place to construct it.”The record of decision for the Entrance to Aspen was issued in 1998. In developments since then, Aspen voters have rejected financing light-rail, the preferred transit alternative in the project, and realigning the highway.Replacing the bridge, however, has remained a priority for city and county governments, given the existing bridge’s condition. The span was originally constructed as a railroad trestle in 1888 and was converted for automobile use in 1929. It’s the oldest state highway bridge in service in Colorado and has a bridge sufficiency rating of 24 out of a possible 100 points, according to CDOT.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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