Basalt council debates how to connect north with south
BASALT – The town of Basalt has applied for state funds to help build a pedestrian underpass beneath Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue, but not all council members are sold on the concept.
Another longtime goal of the town has been to build some type of extension of Midland Avenue connecting the South Side neighborhood to the downtown side. Alternatives for that connection include an underpass or overpass of Highway 82 or a roundabout.
Councilman Herschel Ross said at a recent council meeting that he is concerned that if Basalt is awarded funds for the pedestrian underpass at Basalt Avenue, it could hamper the town’s chances to get funds for improvements at Midland Avenue. He doesn’t want to preclude what could be a “better solution” by first building the pedestrian-only underpass. In addition, Ross indicated he was surprised the town is considering two underpasses within a quarter-mile of each other.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman said there is no funding for the improvements at Midland Avenue and Highway 82 for the foreseeable future.
“In the meantime, we have a terrible need to get people across that street safely,” she said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation moved Highway 82 out of Basalt in the late 1980s and constructed the Basalt Bypass. It wasn’t anticipated that the town would expand along the bypass and create the need for better connections between north and south.
Foot traffic between the two sections of town is expected to increase in the near future. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is building an enhanced bus stop near the intersection of Basalt Avenue and Highway 82. In addition, the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation has applied to build a senior community on the south side.
The pedestrian underpass at Basalt Avenue is an important first step to connecting the sections of town, Freedman contended.
“It’s the only thing we can afford to do now within five or six years,” she said.
Former Town Manager Bill Kane, who is working on a part-time, contract basis until his successor is found, agreed that the town should pursue the pedestrian-only underpass at Basalt first as a practical matter. That underpass is estimated to cost $2.6 million. The underpass at Midland Avenue that also would accommodate vehicles would cost $8 million and would require significant re-engineering and reconstruction of Highway 82 to make the underpass work.
“The hand we’re dealt here is that if we really want to do something, I honestly believe the only thing that’s feasible for us to do right now is the Basalt Avenue underpass,” Kane said to the council. “The other one is going to be the Entrance to Aspen all over again. We’ve all lived through this. We’re going to be talking about this for another 10 years.”
Kane referred to the lengthy debate over whether a straight-shot road should replace the S-curves going into Aspen. That battle has raged for decades with no end in sight.
Councilman Rick Stevens said he isn’t opposed to the Basalt Avenue underpass, but he wants to keep pressing for the Midland Avenue solution.
“I don’t want to give up on one because the other is easier,” Stevens said.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she sees a pressing need for the Basalt Avenue underpass because of the existing foot traffic and the projections that it will grow. It’s a safety issue, she said. Basalt Avenue is the main or central entrance to Basalt on the Highway 82 Basalt Bypass. It’s the intersection near the Basalt Store gas station and convenience store.
“The bottom line is we were really trying to make a promise to the community that we were going to find a safe way across that highway for pedestrians that we do not have now. The only thing we can do is a pedestrian underpass at that location,” Whitsitt said.
In addition to pursuing the Basalt Avenue underpass, Whitsitt suggested that the council hold a meeting to determine the type of design to pursue at Midland Avenue and Highway 82. She wants to invite the Colorado Department of Transportation, South Side residents and business owners and collect their input. The suggestion sparked a sharp exchange between Whitsitt and Councilman Glenn Rappaport.
“There’s a variety of interests out there that do not agree with me or some other member of this council,” Whitsitt said, defending the need for a community meeting.
“Let them run for office,” Rappaport responded.
He later added that he doesn’t want to reopen the process to a community debate.
“I don’t want to talk about who thinks what over here and who thinks what over there,” Rappaport said. “I want to talk about who thinks what in this room.”
Whitsitt responded, “That’s all very interesting, but I made a promise that I was going to get the public involved in our decisions.”
“Great, then you go do that,” Rappaport said.
“I already know there’s a public out there that differs from … ,” Whitsitt started saying.
“Yeah, so, then let them come in and talk to us,” Rappaport said. “We’re the representatives of the public. We’re been talking about it for 15 years, Jacque. I would like to get it figured out in this room without any more discussion.”
“We’re going to invite them to come in and talk to us in this room,” Whitsitt answered.
The discussion concluded without a clear-cut answer on what the council will do if it is awarded FASTER funds from the state Transportation Department for the Basalt Avenue pedestrian underpass. The town applied for about $2 million for the $2.6 million project.
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