Candidates agree on BEST course of action
ASPEN Aspen mayoral candidates Mick Ireland, Tim Semrau and Torre may find a lot to disagree about in the coming weeks, but they agree on one thing, at least: All three have joined a new alliance urging voters to pass Ballot Measure 1 on May 8.Ballot Measure 1 asks voters to authorize the use of buses in dedicated mass transit lanes on the new Highway 82 Maroon Creek Bridge, under construction next to the century-old original bridge.The alliance calls itself BEST, which stands for Better Efficient Safe Transit, and its members will be holding forth at a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday at the Aspen Golf Course Parking Lot.Describing BEST as “a broad coalition of individuals from environment, business and transit interest,” a statement listed a “steering committee” of 37 individuals, including a number of past, present and future elected officials – assuming that one of the three candidates will be the next mayor. The news release listed Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who is a former city council member and longtime advocate of creating a direct connection between Highway 82 and Main Street, as the contact person.”The group includes small and large business people, members of the Friends of Marolt … and long time transit supporters,” who are in favor of allowing “bus lanes to be built from Buttermilk, over the new Maroon Creek Bridge, and to the roundabout. Voting no would mean that all vehicles, including buses, will use two lanes on the new bridge.”As the plans stand, according to the city, the Colorado Department of Transportation is building the bridge with two traffic lanes and a broad median strip. The idea is that the median strip can be torn up, at a cost of $500,000, at some future time to make way for bus lanes.The city of Aspen wants voters to approve buses on dedicated mass transit lanes, which the city is hoping can be built now as part of the bridge project rather than added later. The city then would move ahead on planning and building bus lanes along the highway between Buttermilk and the roundabout.The Environmental Impact Statement the state drew up in the late 1990s, when local and state governments were actively pursuing the idea of reviving passenger train service between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, mentions light rail and buses. That EIS, known as the “preferred alternative,” included the “modified straight shot” realignment of Highway 82 across the publicly owned Marolt Open Space.But in 1996, voters approved use of the Marolt Open Space specifically to build a four-lane highway with two of the lanes dedicated to rail service, with no mention of buses.The question asks whether the city can amend a right-of-way easement conveyed to the state in 2002, involving only the roadway between Buttermilk and the roundabout, leaving aside the Marolt open space debate for a later time.”The common sense proposal,” the BEST statement declared, “would leverage federal and state funds in order to save 15 minutes for transit riders during peak trips. If Aspen voters support the ballot measure, then bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout could be in operation in less than two years.”The statement maintains that approval of the question “will not predetermine the outcome of improvements between the roundabout and Main Street,” which have to do with whether to go ahead with the modified straight shot, leave the highway on the existing S-curves, or some combination of the two.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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