Basalt deadlocked on entrance |

Basalt deadlocked on entrance

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Basalt Town Council couldn’t make a decision last night on one of the biggest issues it’s facing ” how to alter the main intersection in town.

The town government was supposed to let the Colorado Department of Transportation know by Feb. 4 what projects it wants considered for funding over the next 25 years. But the council was deadlocked 3-3 on how best to proceed with improvements at Highway 82 and Midland Avenue. Councilwoman Tracy Bennett abstained from two votes and refused to break the deadlock.

Tempers flared as it became clear the council was sharply divided. Mayor Rick Stevens argued that the town should stick with a proposal favored by citizens who worked on a town master plan in the late 1990s. That plan envisions building an underpass to shoot Midland Avenue beneath Highway 82. That would connect the new south side of town with the old town center.

Stevens said no one has come up to him demanding that changes be made to that plan.

Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann fired back that Stevens was making a “ridiculous defense” for the existing plan. “That argument doesn’t even make sense,” she said.

Ernemann claimed residents might not even be aware what the master plan says. Besides, conditions have changed in the five years since the plan was crafted, she added.

Stevens responded that he had a right to defend his position without criticism.

“We’re very entertaining tonight,” Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said to an audience of about 10 people. “Aren’t you glad you came?”

Stevens teamed with Councilmen Leroy Duroux and Jon Fox-Rubin in a faction that wants to tell CDOT that Basalt wants the underpass funded at Midland Avenue and Highway 82. They said that project could serve as a “place holder” to reserve funds. They alleged the project could be altered if citizen planning advisers favor an alternative to the underpass.

Another faction with Ernemann, Whitsitt and Councilwoman Anne Freedman lobbied to send CDOT information that said improvements were wanted for the intersection, but a specific plan hasn’t been determined yet. They argued that the town would be stuck with an underpass if that’s what is submitted to CDOT ” even if residents decide an alternative is better.

Whitsitt said she was advised by Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, who chairs CDOT’s Intermountain Regional Transportation Plan committee, to request funding for intersection changes and tell CDOT that a specific plan was forthcoming.

But Duroux and Stevens claimed that approach was too vague and would be rejected by CDOT officials.

“They’re going to throw it away,” Duroux said.

“This isn’t even half-baked,” added Stevens.

Bennett justified her abstention from voting by saying she felt some agreement could be worked out. However, she never proposed a motion to try to achieve that goal.

Town Manager Tom Baker, who was at his last meeting before his resignation takes effect, said the staff was in a tough position on the issue because the council was split. He advised telling CDOT that more study was necessary by the town.

“If we’re divided … then CDOT has a reason for not pursuing the effort,” he said.

The council ultimately approved a motion that said the town of Basalt wants CDOT to fund a pedestrian overpass or underpass. No funding was sought for a project for vehicles. It was unclear if Bennett voted on that third motion.

The council will ask a citizens group to further study the intersection and entrance issues.

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