Basalt candidates Q&A: Do you support the Basalt underpass?
Editor’s note: Basalt has two candidates running for mayor and six candidates running for three council seats in the April 5 election. The Aspen Times quizzed the candidates on five top issues. Their answers will run through Friday with the order rotating.
Aspen Times: The pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue has turned out to be more than twice as expensive as originally thought, with an estimated price of $6.6 million. Are you committed to pursuing the project? If so, how would you fund it?
Jacque Whitsitt: I am committed to the underpass. It is the most urgent project on our plate. The good news is it’s all but funded. We have confidence in our major partners, Pitkin County, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, CDOT and others. With the support of our town manager and active citizens we are relentlessly pursuing funding for this project. We are going to break ground on this project later this year. It is a critical connector in our town and a major safety issue for school kids and RFTA riders. Previous leadership has been unsuccessful in pushing this project to completion.
Rick Stevens: Totally committed. Funding mechanisms are plentiful and we will prioritize the project as No. 1 on the list.
Herschel Ross: After exhausting partnership dollars with CDOT, PitCo, etc. we only have two sources of revenue. Sales tax and property tax. Raising property taxes moves us further away from working people being able to live here. This is an expensive but very important project, although I prefer an underpass at Midland Ave. The logical thing is to support projects that would bring more sales tax to Basalt, including stimulating downtown to fill the empty storefronts, such as having more people living downtown and creating an active destination River Park.
Auden Schendler: If one person gets killed trying to cross that highway, we’re going to think any price would have been acceptable. So we need to get ’er done. My understanding is that it’s not twice as expensive but that the budget was $5 million. Now, Pitkin County wants to help, bless them, and I think we can find a path forward. On funding, Basalt needs to think through public infrastructure needs and the revenue streams necessary to pay for improvements. This means having a larger vision than we’ve had (and less obsessing over single parcels), including financing mechanism like municipal bonds and urban renewal districts.
Katie Schwoerer: I am completely committed to building the Southside underpass. Right now, the town is seeking construction bids and has set a completion date of October 2017. Already, many funding partners — including Pitkin and Eagle counties and Safe Routes to School — have agreed to assist in funding this project. We are now in a construction boom with higher costs and more competition. Still, we must complete the underpass as quickly as possible. The underpass is a life and safety issue that requires immediate resolution.
Leroy Duroux: A safe option to get people across Highway 82 is absolutely essential. It should have been part of RFTA bus expansion program. We are very fortunate to have not and serious injuries at that crossing. Not only are bus riders crossing, we have students all day going to the high school campus, students from neighborhoods going to school and then back to town daily. Our staff and consultants from the financial world find answers and methods to pay for this project. We are also relying on partners Pitkin and Eagle County, CDOT, RFTA and other sources. The town has to make this a priority and commit available funds to this project before spending more on the Pan and Fork project.
Rob Leavitt: Yes! Absolutely. It is unfortunate that the price of the underpass has risen so high, but it is a necessary, crucial and monumental safety issue for our community. Since the underpass will serve members of our community living in Basalt, Eagle County and Pitkin County, it is appropriately being funded by all three jurisdictions as well and CDOT, RFTA and others.
Jennifer Riffle: Being a survivor of a vehicle-pedestrian accident (myself the pedestrian), the underpass is an absolute for the safety and piece of mind of our community. The southside underpass is a valuable trails connector. The project is 95 percent to completely funded at $6.5 million raised by the town of Basalt through a variety of partnerships.