Castle Creek Road guardrail plan wins go-ahead from Pitkin County

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

ASPEN – Privately financed guardrails to beef up safety on Castle Creek Road south of Aspen won a thumbs-up Tuesday from Pitkin County commissioners.

The proposal, for about 2,100 feet of guardrail spread among various trouble spots, will cost about $100,000. It will be funded by the nonprofit Citizens of Castle Creek, an entity spearheaded by billionaire Bill Koch, who owns a home about 10 miles up the rural road from its junction with Highway 82.

The installation plan has been scaled back considerably from the original proposal, which called for more than five miles of guardrail, said Brian Pettet, county public works director. The initial plan raised concerns about how guardrails would alter the character of the scenic route.

Private consultants, responding to input from county staff, commissioners and residents, pared the plan back several times, finally landing at 2,100 feet. New sections of guardrail will be placed in the most dangerous spots with the most precipitous dropoffs, Pettet said.

“At each step of the way, the guardrail amount was reduced substantially. The areas that we’re really looking at right now are warranted,” he said.

“You’ve nailed the corner I went off on,” Commissioner Steve Child said.

The longest stretch, at 370 feet, would be installed south of Conundrum Creek Road, where Castle Creek Road climbs for southbound traffic and the outer edge features dizzying dropoffs with little or no shoulder.

The rails won’t alleviate the need to drive prudently, as conditions dictate, Commissioner George Newman pointed out, but a couple of Castle Creek Valley residents praised the plan as it has evolved.

“I’m encouraged that we’re now focusing on where the real problems are and that we’re no longer proposing guardrails right along the stream where they would block the stream (views),” resident Joe Wells said. He encouraged the county to make sure the rails are placed as far from the pavement as possible to accommodate bicyclists and joggers.

“I knew in the end you’d come up with a solution that would work for everybody,” said John Wilcox, who owns a home in the upper valley as well as Ashcroft Ski Touring and the Pine Creek Cookhouse.

“We know our customers are going to appreciate it, too,” he said.

Bruce Gordon, who lives on Conundrum Creek Road, arrived too late to share his thoughts with commissioners but said later that he objected to the process that led to private desires and dollars advancing what would typically be a public-works project.

“It’s going about it incorrectly when a private citizen with a lot of money drives the agenda,” he said, voicing concern about the precedent that could be set. “This was not very high up on the Public Works Department’s radar screen, and all of a sudden, it was raised to the front of the pack.”

“I’ve lived up there 35 years, and I don’t think it’s necessary,” he added.

The county will issue a right-of-way work permit and oversee the project, Pettet said. The nonprofit group will contract for the work, though, rather than the county.

Extra replacement guardrails or funds for future repairs can be provided to the county, said consultant Tom Newland.


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