Basalt sends message on road |

Basalt sends message on road

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Eagle County is looking at a redesign of frontage roads and intersections south of the main El Jebel intersection. The favored plan would convert the Valley Road intersection with Valley Road into a roundabout west of the existing intersection.

The Basalt Town Council is sending a strong message to Eagle County not to skimp on pedestrian safety when it redesigns a major intersection in El Jebel.

Some members of the board even questioned whether the multimillion-dollar project is needed at all.

Eagle County is looking at a redesign of the main El Jebel intersection both north and south of Highway 82. It sought comments from Basalt on the south-side plan, where the challenge is to move a frontage road and intersection of Valley Road and East Valley Road farther away from the highway to relieve congestion and allow for vehicle stacking. The Eagle County commissioners will hold a work session Wednesday to narrow design options.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the existing roads and intersections worked well one recent weekend when Crown Mountain Park hosted a lacrosse tournament that attracted more than 1,000 players as well as hundreds of additional parents and spectators.

“It was a real eye-opener when we had this largest tournament in the history of the world,” Whitsitt said. Vehicles overflowed the parking lot, but congestion wasn’t an issue, she said.

“Me and some other people were scratching our heads and asking, ‘Why even do this at all?’” Whitsitt said to Louis Meyer, a partner in SGM, an engineering firm that is helping the county with the design.

Meyer said parameters set by the Colorado Department of Transportation are directing the design. No single future project is expected to generate traffic that will create the need for the improved intersection, he said, but general growth will overwhelm the existing roads in that area at peak times. CDOT projects 2 to 3 percent annual growth, the SGM team told the Basalt council.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is opening a new parking lot for bus riders on the south side of the main intersection. Crown Mountain Park is proposing an indoor recreation center that likely will go to voters for approval this fall. The road also provides access to the Movieland commercial complex and the Eagle County government building.

SGM is recommending construction of a roundabout to replace the intersection of Valley Road and East Valley Road with a roundabout. The recommendation came after extensive public outreach. The roundabout would be farther west of the existing intersection.

Meyer said CDOT requires the roundabout to be 500 feet away from the highway. A roundabout built by Basalt on Willits Lane is only 350 feet off the highway. SGM officials said CDOT’s projections indicate there will be more traffic on Valley Road than on Willits Lane in the future. Basalt officials expressed doubt on those projections. Willits Lane serves Whole Foods Market and the growing Willits Town Center development as well as hundreds of residences.

If Eagle County proceeds with the reconstruction of the intersection, Basalt Town Council members want a safer way for pedestrians to cross East Valley Road. The current design calls for a standard pedestrian crossing.

Councilman Glenn Rappaport said the design focuses too much on the future flow of traffic and not enough on keeping pedestrians safe.

“You say you’re looking 20 years out for road design. You should be looking 20 years out for pedestrians,” Rappaport said.

The council wants Eagle County to look at a pedestrian overpass or underpass at East Valley Road. Such a feature would cost about $1.2 million, according to Meyer.

No final cost will be available for the project until the design is finalized.