Buses to sail through Snowmass construction | AspenTimes.com
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Buses to sail through Snowmass construction

Jeremy Heiman

Riders on Roaring Fork Transit Authority buses won’t experience any significant delays during the construction of a four-lane highway through Snowmass Canyon, officials say.

Colorado Department of Transportation, RFTA and the contractor on the project have studied the situation, and they believe the construction won’t cause bus riders any delays. Some work on the 3.5-mile-long section of State Highway 82 is expected to begin this fall, but the project probably won’t be in high gear until spring.

“We’ve been working with RFTA on this situation,” said Ralph Trapani, the CDOT’s chief engineer for Highway 82 projects. “We’re committed to keeping the people on the buses and getting them good, reliable travel times during the Snowmass Canyon construction.”

Once the construction work is in full swing, one lane of the present two-lane highway will be closed much of the day. Upvalley traffic will be on the remaining lane, and down-valley traffic will be routed onto Lower River Road from 6 a.m. until noon. The contractor will have the option of keeping the detour operating until 3 p.m. if work requires more time. Buses will be on the same route.

Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s general manager, said the speed limit on Lower River Road will be considerably lower than on Highway 82 through the canyon, where buses travel at about 55 miles per hour.

“That could add about five to 10 minutes into our schedule,” he said. Buses can sometimes pick up some of the lost time. But even if buses arrive at El Jebel a few minutes late, it won’t snowball into greater lateness on the next run, Blankenship said. The round trip from Aspen to El Jebel and back is done every two hours, and each vehicle has a scheduled 30-minute layover, more than enough to allow an on-time start for the next run, he said.

“When it’s really a problem,” Blankenship said, “we put on some extra buses.” If a bus should arrive too late in El Jebel to start an upvalley run, another bus will be waiting to substitute.

At the “wormhole,” the point where four upvalley lanes squeeze into two at Old Snowmass, CDOT has built an extra lane beside the high-occupancy vehicle lane, which will allow buses to advance past standing traffic.

The same is true on the downvalley leg, when the detour is not in operation.

“There’s a huge HOV lane and an additional bypass lane going downvalley into Snowmass Canyon,” Blankenship said, “so that we can get ahead of traffic there.”

The only stop that will be affected is the downvalley Gerbazdale stop, Blankenship said. For use when the detour is in effect, a temporary stop will be erected near the intersection of Highway 82 and Gerbaz Lane, just upvalley from the regular stop.

Trapani said it’s in CDOT’s best interest to work with RFTA, and the agency has done so throughout the four-laning project.

“We have to look at this as a multimodal corridor,” Trapani said. “Buses take a lot of cars off the road. It’s a cooperative situation.”

Blankenship agreed that CDOT has worked well with his agency.

“What we’ve seen in the past is they’ve really done a good job of minimizing the delays,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a good plan.

“Of course,” Blankenship continued, “we’ll try to promote our services heavily, to get more people to use us and to get more cars off the road.”

Ames Construction of Aurora has been selected as the lead contractor on Snowmass Canyon. Two other companies, Yenter and Kramer, will be subcontractors, Trapani said. Utility relocation work has already begun, and later this month, Ames will begin some work to prepare Lower River Road to serve as a detour.

The canyon project is expected to cost more than $100 million.


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