Aspen, Pitkin and Snowmass officials green light $2 million in transportation funding
Elected officials from the upper Roaring Fork Valley granted more than $2 million in funding for three shovel-ready projects they say will encourage the use of public transportation and deter a public-safety hazard in Basalt.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee — comprised of members of the Aspen City Council, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the Snowmass Village Town Council — unanimously voted to approve allocating public dollars toward the remodeling of the Rubey Park Transit Center, the construction of an underpass at Highway 82 in Basalt and the paving of a portion of the parking lot at Buttermilk ski area. They tabled funding $335,000 for traffic mitigation during the 2017 construction of the new $115 million Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs.
Each elected body had to approve the funding proposals in order for them to go through.
But a philosophical debate arose as to whether public dollars from the upper valley should help fund the construction of the underpass in Basalt, located at one of the valley’s busiest Highway 82 intersections.
Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch said he couldn’t support the allocation of $750,000 for the underpass, chiefly because the Basalt government doesn’t have a seat on the Elected Officials Transportation Committee.
“I appreciate everything George said,” Frisch said in regards to Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman’s offering that the money is available to fund projects that benefit the entire valley. “But the ability to spend money doesn’t mean we should. … I think I’m not going to be there on the Basalt aspect at the moment. Everything else, I fully support.”
Another county commissioner, Patti Clapper, suggested that Basalt elected officials should have a seat on the commission.
“I think it’s really critical for the community,” Clapper said. “I think we need to address it. There’s a percentage of money that’s generated down there, and I think we need to bring in Basalt. They should be a member.”
The general consensus, however, was that upper-valley funding of mid- to lower-valley transportation projects is vital.
“There’s no way we’re not connected to every single facet of this valley,” said County Commissioner Michael Owsley.
“This is an important element of enhancing the transportation facilities up and down the valley,” said Aspen City Councilman Art Daily:
Rubey Park remodel
The commission signed off on a $1 million allocation to support the remodeling of Rubey Park, which was built in downtown Aspen on Durant Avenue some 25 years ago.
“Built in the late 1980s, the facility has deteriorated while growing ridership has resulted in activity levels that exceed the comfortable capacity of the facility,” wrote John Krueger, Aspen’s transportation director, in a memo to the Elected Officials Transportation Committee.
The projected cost of the Rubey Park remodel, identified by Aspen City Council as one of its top priorities, has climbed to $9.3 million because of surging prices in construction materials. The project has secured $7.9 million in local, state and federal funding — including $3.9 million the committee approved in October. The committee’s additional $1 million, along with another $417,000 out of the city’s transportation fund, will close the gap.
Clapper said she is in favor of the remodel, but, “I have a hard time swallowing an almost $10 million project.”
Even so, she and the rest of the committee voted in approval of the funding.
Construction is expected to begin in April. Tuesday was the deadline for bids, with three bids coming within 3.5 percent of each other, according to Krueger.
Krueger said a building permit should be secured within a couple of weeks. Officials expect the project to be mostly finished by November.
Buttermilk parking lot
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee agreed to pony up $280,000, nearly half the cost, for the paving of the Buttermilk Park and Ride Facility at the base of the ski area. Aspen Skiing Co. will pay the remainder of the $564,516 cost. The lot that will be paved is owned by Pitkin County and the Colorado Department of Transportation. It’s a prime spot for skiers to leave their vehicles and take a free shuttle to Aspen Highlands.
“Those buses are regularly full and it’s popular for locals to park at Buttermilk and take the shuttle to Highlands,” said David Corbin, Skico’s vice president of planning and development. “It helps reduce congestion on Maroon Creek Road and Highlands.”
The lot also is popular for winter uphillers — “We get 200 to 300 people a day,” Corbin said — as well as summer users.
Commissioner Steve Child added that the unpaved portion of the lot doesn’t bode well for Buttermilk’s hygiene. That’s because skiers’ boots are often soaked in mud, and by the time they make it to the Summit Express chair lift, the snow is muddy, too. The paved lot, he said, will “keep things cleaner on average and help your snow last longer.”
Pitkin County will be tasked with hiring a contractor to do the work, said Brian Pettet, the county’s director of public works. The project is expected to be completed later this year.
The town of Basalt has been pressing since 2004 to build an underpass at the intersection of Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue.
Town officials have cautioned that the intersection is a public-safety hazard because of the high level of pedestrian activity in the area. The intersection is next to a park-and-ride lot and a bus stop on each side of Highway 82. It’s also the main connecting point for other uses.
“Crossing Highway 82 in 30 seconds is treacherous,” said Gary Tennenbaum, a Basalt Town Council member who also is the county’s assistant director of Open Space and Trails.
That’s the amount of time the traffic light allows pedestrians to cross the highway.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee agreed to allocate $750,000 toward the construction of the underpass, which has a total cost of $4.1 million. Basalt officials also plan to ask Eagle County for $250,000.
“That intersection is a cluster,” said Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler, calling it a “disaster waiting to happen.”
Construction is expected to begin in late summer or early fall of 2016.
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