Basalt seeks solutions on connecting north, south
BASALT – Basalt officials have reignited ambitions to connect the downtown area with Southside via a pedestrian underpass beneath Highway 82, but they still must decide where it should go.
Six members of the council were divided Tuesday night on preference for an underpass at Basalt Avenue, at the town’s main intersection on Highway 82 or at Midland Avenue, where it would connect to Southside Drive by Big O Tires.
Interest in the project isn’t an issue. Execution of a plan has been more elusive.
“Connecting the north and south sides of Highway 82 has been a goal of the town ever since Colorado Department of Transportation built the four-lane highway,” said a memo to the council from Basalt Planning Director Susan Philp. The Highway 82 Basalt Bypass was constructed in the late 1980s. It’s no longer a bypass. Basalt has approved considerable development on the south side of the road in the past two decades.
Demand for a pedestrian crossing will increase if a proposed continuing-care retirement community is built on the south side. Scores of senior citizens will want convenient access to the post office, library and downtown core.
Consultants for the town were hired this spring to look at pedestrian options. Loris Associates and Sopris Engineering recommended construction of a pedestrian underpass at Basalt Avenue, the road close to The Basalt Store and the gas station. That underpass also would be adjacent to enhanced bus stops for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s expansion, called bus rapid transit.
The recommended underpass would be 81⁄2 feet high and 16 feet wide. It would be well lit and designed to make users feel safe, the consultants said. The cost is projected at $2.4 million.
An overpass at any location was ruled out because construction would run afoul of regulations on developing in a flood zone.
Councilwoman Karin Teague said it feels like the best pedestrian underpass would be along Midland Avenue. The straight shot would connect with Southside Drive, the road that provides access to the high school and the proposed retirement community. That also would provide the most direct access to the popular Rio Grande Trail.
The problem with that location is the distance necessary to get to the bus stop. Town Manager Bill Kane said an underpass at Midland Avenue would get limited use by bus riders. They would opt to cross the highway at the Basalt Avenue intersection with Highway 82.
Councilman Glenn Rappaport said his top priorities are connectivity to the school and safety for pedestrians.
“I don’t want to design this around access to (bus rapid transit) as the No. 1 priority,” he said.
Rappaport said Midland Avenue is the town’s main street and therefore makes the most sense for an underpass.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman countered that an underpass at Basalt Avenue would be most convenient for the greatest number of pedestrians.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the council shouldn’t just opine on what constituents want.
“I’m really concerned about just throwing something on the wall here,” she said. “We are not on the same page here.”
Whitsitt proposed forming a commission with representation from businesses and neighborhoods on both sides of the highway. The commission would assess the information and eventually make a recommendation.
Teague said her big fear is building an underpass only to find that residents won’t use it because of the location or appearance.
“Then we’re just throwing money down a hole,” she said.
Rappaport and Councilman Herschel Ross added another angle to the debate by noting that it might make the most sense for the town to build a vehicular underpass at the same time it tackles a pedestrian crossing.
Kane warned that could delay action for years. The state Transportation Department likely wouldn’t contribute to such a project because it would require regrading Highway 82. The cost would be $8 million to $10 million and substantial time, he said.
Kane and the town staff will come back to the council at a later meeting with a plan on how to engage residents on the site selection and resolve planning issues.
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