Basalt entrance debate goes down to the 11th hour |

Basalt entrance debate goes down to the 11th hour

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Basalt leaders are having trouble deciding whether they want to leave the snaking main entrance to town alone or change it.

At its core, the debate mirrors Aspen’s decades-long fight over whether the straight shot or the S-curves are best for that town.

Basalt doesn’t have the luxury of stringing out the feud. It must forward a plan to the Colorado Department of Transportation by Feb. 4 if it stands any chance of securing funding.

“You’ve got to come up with a solution ” whatever it is ” and duke it out with these guys,” resident Glenn Rappaport told the Basalt Town Council at the end of a 90-minute entrance debate.

Two camps dominated the discussion. One camp favors relocating the main entrance by moving the stoplight from the intersection by the Texaco station and Highway 82 to Midland Avenue and Highway 82. That would eliminate the need to drive through the roundabout and dog leg past the post office. Instead there would be a straight shot to downtown off Highway 82.

Another camp wants to leave the main entrance by the Texaco alone and create an underpass at Highway 82 and Midland Avenue. That camp is further divided into a faction that sees the underpass solely as a way to connect north and south Basalt and another faction that favors using turn lanes to create connections to Highway 82.

Councilwomen Tiffany Ernemann and Jacque Whitsitt touted relocating the main intersection and stoplight as the best way to preserve downtown Basalt. That option was also favored by a group called Citizens for a New Entrance to Basalt, which turned in a petition with the signatures of 29 people.

Ernemann said that her discussions with CDOT officials indicated that the realigned intersection and stoplight has the best chance of receiving state highway funds. An underpass, which she labeled the “pie-in-the-sky” option, would cost between $15 million and $20 million. That amount is unlikely to be funded by the cash-strapped state, she said.

But the underpass is supported by a couple of important studies. A master plan created in 1999, when Basalt officials declared they had growth under control and their destiny figured out, supported the underpass. And a citizens’ group working on a variation of the master plan confirmed support for the underpass this month.

“We feel that the underpass is a better option than stoplights here, there and everywhere,” said John Swanson, chair of that committee.

Jim Kent, a resident involved in numerous civic endeavors, said some of the cities and towns that have done the best job of retaining a sense of community have indirect entrances to their cores. He supported keeping the existing main entrance as it is.

Councilman Jon Fox-Rubin said he didn’t see the issue as re-creating an entrance to Basalt. He said his primary concern is connecting the two halves of Basalt split by Highway 82.

Ironically, the highway was moved out of downtown Basalt to the pastures to the south in 1987 to relieve congestion. Basalt respond by approving development along both sides of that bypass.

The main entrance off the bypass used to provide a somewhat straight shot into Basalt. However, the old 7-Eleven bridge over the Roaring Fork River had to be taken out of commission by Pitkin County. It provided funds for a new bridge with the extension of Midland Avenue. To get vehicles from the highway to the Midland extension, the roundabout and dog leg were utilized.

The vision of Basalt leaders was to extend Midland Avenue all the way to the south side of the highway. The project was on the state of Colorado’s highway project list, but that list was tossed out when a new procedure was adopted to determine funding priorities, according to Stevens and Councilman Leroy Duroux.

So Basalt is trying to get a new project back on the list. CDOT needs all proposals by Feb. 4 so it can start the process of prioritizing funding over the next 25 years.

The council will make an 11th-hour decision on its entrance issue at its next regular meeting on Jan. 27.

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