Bridge design to tap local funds
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Upper valley governments agreed Thursday to spend $1.5 million to finish the design work for a new Maroon Creek Bridge.
It can’t be constructed, though, without approval by Aspen voters.
Elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village agreed to spend local tax dollars on the final designs for a new bridge without any guarantees that the money will be refunded or count as a local match on a future transportation project.
“It is clear to me that the design for this bridge has to go forward, even though you may not know the results of the vote,” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.
Given that the 116-year-old span has undergone repairs for major structural damage twice since October, Klanderud predicted voters would give the needed authorization to replace it.
City voters have already approved the use of open space for highway right of way in order to replace the bridge with a new two-lane span and a light-rail corridor. Light rail, however, is no longer considered a mass-transit option in the near future.
As an alternative, the bridge can be constructed to accommodate two lanes of general traffic and two dedicated bus lanes, along with a pedestrian/bike lane. However, the right of way for that configuration was not specifically authorized by the 1996 vote.
The city needs to put the matter to voters this year, said Karen Rowe, resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“I’m asking for the city of Aspen to make this a top priority,” she said.
With local jurisdictions putting up the design money for the new bridge, CDOT will seek federal discretionary money for its construction, according to Rowe. Had the elected officials declined to finance the design work, Rowe said CDOT would apply to the feds for design funding instead.
The state can’t seek the discretionary funds for both design and construction because the money has to be spent within a year. and there’s no way to accomplish both within that time frame, she said. CDOT has no funds to put toward the design work, though the agency funded about $140,000 in preliminary engineering work last year.
The cost of the new bridge and its approaches is estimated at about $25 million, including the design costs.
CDOT will also seek $3 million from a separate pot of federal money dedicated to historic preservation. The bridge, originally a railroad trestle, has an historic designation and preservation money could be spent repairing it, Rowe said.
City Councilman Terry Paulson, who opposes the four-lane design of the new bridge, urged local governments to spend money fixing the existing bridge rather than designing the new one.
“It seems to me the No. 1 priority is to get a safe bridge out there,” he said.
Fixing the bridge provides no mass-transit improvement and isn’t eligible for the local funds, countered City Councilwoman Rachel Richards.
Klanderud questioned the wisdom of sinking more money into the existing bridge.
“It’s like a car that has 200,000 miles on it and you keep putting money into it,” she said. “At what point do you buy a new car?”
“We’re not talking about buying a new car. We’re talking about buying plans for a new car that may come at some time in the future,” said City Councilman Tim Semrau.
If the construction funds don’t come through, the designs should have a long shelf life, Rowe said. They’ll still be good when construction money is available.
Although the state doesn’t have the funds to build the bridge, Pitkin County has made its construction a top priority in a list of projects forwarded to the local Transportation Planning Region. Each region will forward projects to the state in hopes of getting them into CDOT’s long-range plans.
Only Paulson voted against spending local dollars on the bridge design at last night’s meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee. The group is comprised of the Aspen City Council, Snowmass Village Town Council and Pitkin County commissioners. The EOTC controls revenues generated by countywide taxes dedicated to transit uses.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com]