Basalt faces entrance woes of its own | AspenTimes.com

Basalt faces entrance woes of its own

Aspen isn’t the only town mired in a big debate over what to do with its entrance to town. Basalt has problems of its own.

While Aspen’s problems are mostly political, Basalt’s are mostly practical.

Basalt officials would like to extend Midland Avenue under Highway 82 and connect it to Fiou Lane by the Big O Tire store. Town officials hail that step as a way to connect the new south side of town with the old established core.

The connection would also allow drivers coming off Highway 82 to take a straight shot into town. Now motorists using the main intersection go through a small roundabout then dog leg into town past the post office.

The indirect route riles some drivers and even prompted Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt to label it “circular gyration crap” last year.

Everyone agrees that an underpass would improve traffic flow. The problem with the solution is the estimated $5.7 million cost. The project is among the Colorado Department of Transportation’s planned but unfunded projects.

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The cost is sure to go up before the project is ever built. And at a time when the state is struggling to find funding for highway projects, competition will be stiffer than ever.

“The economics of highway funding are going to be tough to deal with the next several years,” said Ralph Trapani, who retired Tuesday as the project engineer for Highway 82.

Funding aside, Trapani believes Basalt’s desired solution to its entrance also poses engineering hurdles. Building a grade-separated intersection at that location isn’t as easy as it may seem, he said.

Highway 82 would have to be raised so far back from the intersection that it would require major reconstruction, and the road would end up significantly higher than the park-and-ride lot on the south side and the Texaco station on the north.

“That to me is the big challenge for that project,” said Trapani.

An at-grade intersection, where the highway and Midland Avenue would be at the same level and controlled by a stoplight, also presents problems, said Trapani. Midland would have to be built so high that the road would be significantly above the post office on the north and Big O Tires on the south.

So what’s a highway engineer to do?

“The best idea would have been a grade-separated interchange – and I say would have,” said Trapani.

He explained that the interchange should have been constructed when the Basalt Bypass section of road was constructed in the late 1980s – before extensive development on both sides of the highway. The planning for the bypass project was undertaken in the early 1980s, before it was evident just how much Basalt would boom.

Trapani said CDOT and town officials should have done a better job coordinating transit planning with land-use planning. But that’s easier to see in hindsight, he said, and there’s really no one to blame.

“I don’t think we can be too hard on anyone,” said Trapani.

While he wasn’t involved in the Basalt Bypass planning process, he learned a lesson from it for other work on Highway 82. He said the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82 was planned to accommodate a possible grade-separated intersection if it is needed in the future.

Basalt won’t know for years if it gets awarded state funding to solve its entrance woes.

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