Basalt Town Council looks at roundabout way into town
Some Basalt officials want to explore the idea of building a roundabout on Highway 82 as a way of improving the main entrance into town.
But a traffic consultant who has worked with Basalt warned that a roundabout could create more problems than it solves. Nick Adeh, the city engineer for Aspen and a traffic consultant, said he was skeptical a roundabout on Highway 82 would solve Basalt’s issues, but he didn’t completely dismiss it.
The roundabout idea surfaced Tuesday night when the Town Council debated if it should pursue funding to build an underpass beneath Highway 82 for Midland Avenue or for a standard, at-grade intersection.
Towns and counties must submit their wish list of projects to the Colorado Department of Transportation by Feb. 4. But the Basalt Town Council was split over what type of project to pursue, so it’s not making a request.
Mayor Rick Stevens and Councilmen Leroy Duroux and Jon Fox-Rubin want to build an underpass so Midland Avenue can connect the old part of town with the new commercial and residential developments on the south side of Highway 82.
Councilwomen Tiffany Ernemann, Anne Freedman and Jacque Whitsitt want a solution that changes the main entrance to Basalt off of Highway 82. They contend the current entrance is too confusing. Motorists pull off the highway, go through a small roundabout on the frontage road then dogleg past the post office and into town.
The three councilwomen want to replace the S-curve and roundabout with a new road that leads straight from the highway into downtown Basalt.
Whitsitt said the idea for a roundabout was suggested to her by Roger Millar, a land-use and transit planner in the Roaring Fork Valley who now works in Washington, D.C.
Whitsitt said the roundabout could have roads that lead directly to downtown and the south side (by Big O Tires) as well as to the businesses by the Texaco and to the park-and-ride lot. The roundabout would be the hub; the four side roads would be spokes.
The other advantage touted by Whitsitt was a roundabout could slow speeds on the highway through town, as some council members prefer.
CDOT built the Highway 82 Basalt Bypass in the late 1980s to pull the traffic out of town and create what it considers an expressway. But new development has since engulfed the road.
The roundabout sparked limited debate. Freedman called it “exciting” and an idea that warrants further exploration. Ernemann also voted to explore it along with other alternatives.
Duroux questioned its feasibility, however. “CDOT is not going to allow you to put a roundabout on an expressway,” he said.
The idea hasn’t progressed far enough to be analyzed by CDOT. The Aspen Times asked Adeh, who has consulted for Basalt, to make a preliminary assessment. Adeh is a fan of roundabouts. He said he’s designed four dozen of them. But he cautioned that one along the Basalt bypass could create problems.
Designing a roundabout to handle the traffic volume of the bypass at the speed that CDOT allows would require “a huge footprint” more than twice the size of the roundabout outside of Aspen, Adeh said.
The Aspen roundabout accommodates traffic moving at 25 to 30 mph. That roundabout is 170 feet in diameter. It was widely criticized before and during construction, but has worked well enough to silence most critics. Adeh noted that traffic still exceeds the capacity of the roundabout at times and the highway is congested.
The speed limit at the main Basalt entrance is 45 mph. At that speed, it would require a diameter of between 400 and 500 feet to give motorists enough time to comprehend and complete maneuvers, like moving to the outside lane to turn onto a different road.
Adeh said Basalt might have a hard time acquiring all the property necessary for the size of roundabout required.
“If you go too large you start cutting into the frontage roads and the post office parking lot,” he said.
But some Basalt officials want to change the expressway designation and slow speeds on the bypass. That would allow a smaller roundabout. But that, too, might backfire on Basalt.
Adeh said slowing speeds too drastically with traffic signals and a roundabout could result in impatient motorists flooding secondary roads to try to get around congested areas.
When Adeh helped Basalt design its current main entrance, with the small roundabout on the frontage road, he and some town officials envisioned connecting the downtown and south side with an underpass, he said. That prevents adding another stoplight to the bypass.
It’s unknown if the idea of a roundabout debate will lead anywhere. The council indicated that a citizens’ group would be asked to study transit issues, including whether or not changes are needed at the main entrance to town.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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