Castle Creek guardrail proposal scaled back |

Castle Creek guardrail proposal scaled back

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – A call for a guardrail along Castle Creek Road has been honed down to a plan to install the safety rail along only the diciest sections of the scenic, winding road south of Aspen.

Proponents are working with Brian Pettet, director of public works for Pitkin County, and county engineer G.R. Fielding on the refined plan before it is formally submitted to the county for consideration.

“They’ve got it scaled back to something I think the county could work with,” Pettet said Wednesday.

The guardrail proposal is being spearheaded by Bill Koch, a billionaire and owner of the former Elk Mountain Lodge, now his residence, about 10 miles up Castle Creek Road. He hosted a meeting in late December to discuss the proposal and seek input from Castle Creek Valley residents. About 40 people attended, including Pettet and county Commissioner Michael Owsley.

A traffic engineer hired by Koch identified about 5 miles of roadway where a guardrail could improve safety, but roughly 1 1/4 miles of guardrail is envisioned in the evolving plan, according to Tom Newland and Glenn Horn, consultants on the proposal.

“Five miles was pretty extreme. That was everything you could do,” Newland said. The goal was never to install 5 miles of rail, he added.

Stretches of the road that are curved, are adjacent to steep drop-offs and have a history of accidents have become the focus, according to Horn.

“It’s kind of boiled down to … you’re likely to go off, and if you do, you’re probably not going to fare very well,” he said.

Attendees at the December meeting were invited to mark places on a three-dimensional model of the Castle Creek Valley where they’d gone off the road or knew others who had. Those spots helped refine the proposal, said Horn, a resident of the area who, like Koch, knows what it’s like to have his vehicle leave the road.

Sixteen locations have been identified for guardrail placement – 6,800 feet in all – at an estimated cost of $267,000, according to Newland. Koch has formed a nonprofit entity, Citizens for Castle Creek, to push the guardrail plan and fund it privately.

There are only a few short sections of guardrail along the road currently. The proposal would add new stretches and add onto existing guardrail. The longest stretch of rail would be about 750 feet.

“It’s little sections – trying to keep it to the minimum,” Horn said.

Concerns expressed by area residents included calls to protect the aesthetic experience of traveling the road. As a result, guardrail along a fairly straight stretch where the road closely parallels the creek is no longer proposed even though motorists do leave the pavement there from time to time, Horn said.

Bicyclists voiced concerns about being pushed up against guardrails and about the rails hampering the county’s future ability to widen the pavement, Newland said. Where widening the road might be possible, the guardrail would be placed as far off the shoulder as possible, he said.

“We don’t want people in the valley to not like it,” Horn said of the plan.

If county commissioners ultimately approve the guardrail, proponents would like it installed this year. The project would take about a week, Newland said.

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