Bridge plan:really wide, two-lane span |

Bridge plan:really wide, two-lane span

Janet Urquhart

Upper valley elected officials are willing to spend $1.5 million on designs for a new Maroon Creek bridge that will be wide enough for four lanes, but only be used for two.The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprising members of the Aspen City Council, Snowmass Town Council and Pitkin County commissioners, voted Thursday to authorize the expenditure with the hope that some $12 million in funds to actually build the bridge might become available.The Colorado Department of Transportation hopes to have the designs completed by February, according to Ed Fink, CDOT regional transportation director for Region 3.A mix of funding sources – most notably federal dollars that may come to the state not earmarked while Congress remains deadlocked over a new transportation bill – could provide the cash to build the bridge, if the plans are ready to go.The EOTC already committed to paying for the design work; at that time, a four-lane bridge that would include two lanes of general traffic, two dedicated bus lanes and a bike/pedestrian lane was envisioned.Now CDOT is proposing construction of a span that is wide enough for all of those elements, but, for the time being, would carry one lane of general traffic in each direction, plus the bike/pedestrian lane.The feds have indicated an updated environmental assessment would be necessary for the full-fledged bridge, according to Fink. The re-evaluation could cost $2 million to $3 million, and, if construction money doesn’t materialize, the new study could also be obsolete in several years. CDOT can replace the bridge with a new two-lane span without doing the supplemental environmental study, he said.Given the age and condition of the existing Maroon Creek bridge, elected officials endorsed CDOT’s latest plan to replace it. The bridge carries Highway 82 over the Maroon Creek gorge, west of town.”I think this is hugely important,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “Forget all the politics, we need a replacement bridge.”Only Aspen Councilman Terry Paulson voted against the design expenditure. He has opposed the four-lane bridge all along and questioned the wisdom of a 73-foot-wide span for two lanes of traffic.”This is like building a tank and trying to make it look like a Volkswagen,” he said.”It does look like overkill, however it does provide for every option in the future, including light rail,” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.Light rail, if it is ever built, would go across the existing bridge, which was originally a railroad trestle. The new span would be built on the north side of the existing bridge.”We all belong in the ninth circle of hell if we get caught by the voters letting this bridge fall in the water,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland, urging the EOTC to facilitate its replacement.Before the new bridge could be used for bus lanes, the new environmental assessment would have to be done, Fink said.It would also require voter authorization. City voters previously OK’d use of open space for a two-lane bridge and light rail, but didn’t specifically OK use of open space for dedicated bus lanes.The cost of replacing the bridge had previously been estimated at $25 million, including four-lane approaches from Buttermilk and the roundabout. Without work on about 1.5 miles’ worth of approaches, the estimated price drops to $12 million, Fink explained.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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