Basalt eyes an underpass
January 25, 2007
BASALT Basalt officials believe a multimillion-dollar underpass is necessary to create a better connection between two big chunks of town.The underpass would connect Midland Avenue near the post office with South Side Drive near Big O Tires. Mayor Leroy Duroux said the town needs to pursue the idea even if it takes creative financing to pay for it.”Like any other big project, the numbers are going to be horrendous,” Duroux said.The idea for the underpass surfaced nearly a decade ago when town officials realized that most growth would occur on the south side of Highway 82. The idea died a quiet death when the town refocused on a land-use plan for the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan river corridors.Basalt revived the underpass this week when the Town Council and planning commission met to discuss traffic and other potential impacts of development proposals on the south side.Ironically, Highway 82 was moved to its currently alignment in the late 1980s to remove it from the heart of the small town. At the time of the realignment, there was little development south of the road, which then was called the Basalt Bypass. Now Basalt is booming on the south side of the highway as well.The south side of town already features a healthy mix of residences, businesses and light industry – as well as bookend ranches. Two major development projects are under review on the south side, and a third is being contemplated.The town is reviewing a proposal for 99 residences at the Stott’s Mill project on the south side. Review started this week on the Basalt Design Center – a proposal for 40 residences, 20,000 square feet of office space, 70,000 square feet for light industrial businesses and 80,000 square feet of mini-storage.Town officials don’t believe the existing route in and out of the south side can handle all the anticipated traffic. That ingress and egress is at the main Basalt intersection.The underpass would provide an alternative route for local traffic traveling between old town and South Side, according to Councilman Glenn Rappaport, a longtime proponent of the idea. He said “connectivity” in the street system and promoting alternative routes to Highway 82 are keys to keeping Basalt’s small-town feel.The south side of the highway features the high school, a major park-and-ride for the bus system and a growing number of businesses. The post office, library, town hall and commercial core are on the north side, or “old town.”Rappaport opposes any cloverleaves or off-ramps from the highway to the Midland Avenue-South Side Drive connection. Rappaport also wants to see an underpass that is more like traveling under a bridge rather than traveling through a dark tunnel. The underpass must be inviting and safe for pedestrians, he said. The design of that intersection divided prior town councils. It was Basalt’s version of Aspen’s straight shot versus S-curve debate.Currently, traffic existing Highway 82 at the main stoplight must go through a stoplight, parallel the highway for a short distance, then hook into Midland Avenue to reach downtown. That’s the S-curves-style entrance to town.Former Councilman Jacque Whitsitt calls Basalt’s S-curve the “Spaghetti-O” entrance to town. She has always been an advocate of creating a new, straight-shot entrance.Whitsitt and others urged making the connection from Midland Avenue to South Side Drive, but that it should be on the same grade as Highway 82. That would become the major entrance.Basalt has two other entrances from Highway 82. One is commonly used for traffic entering Basalt from upvalley. The third entrance accommodates traffic from downvalley.Duroux said the town government has funds available to study the Midland Avenue extension. No cost estimate is available yet. Council members agreed it would be wise to complete the planning soon so the town could start acquiring funds for the project.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.