Castle Creek Trail near Aspen becoming closer to reality

The rollercoaster cost estimates for a less than 1-mile-long trail along Castle Creek Road are heading up again, an official said Tuesday.

“We are concerned,” said Gary Tennenbaum, director of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program told Pitkin County commissioners. “We might be back to you … if there’s a spike in construction costs.”

The design for the Castle Creek Trail — which will run from the intersection of the Castle Creek Road and the Marolt Trail up Castle Creek Road to the Aspen Music Festival and School and Aspen Country Day School — is slowly coming together, he said.

It’s taken time because all the construction impacts were moved to the road’s uphill side closest to the slope, meaning retaining walls between 2 feet tall and 13 feet tall will have to be built in places on that side of that road, adding to the cost of the trail, Tennenbaum said. He said he’s expecting a guaranteed price from the contractor by Monday.

Initial estimates of the project’s construction cost first came in at $3.8 million, though officials tweaked it down to about $3 million, including rockfall mitigation. About 20% of the trail will be on city property, so the city was to cover $530,000, while the Music School contributed $250,000. The county was set to pay for the remaining $1.85 million out of the Open Space Fund and $344,000 for rockfall mitigation from the county general fund, Tennenbaum said.

Planning costs for the trail came to about $420,000, which was paid by the city and county, he said.

The trail is important to keep students of the two campuses safe. The current situation forces students — many of whom walk or ride bicycles — on to the narrow Castle Creek Road, where they jostle for position among cars, trucks and other bikers.

Efforts to build the trail began in 2007 but were almost immediately stymied by 13 Castle Creek residents who sued to block the project. The case was later settled, though the lawsuit stalled momentum for the trail until commissioners re-prioritized it nearly three years ago.

The new trail design tweaks the project a bit from the previous incarnation.

The shared trail remains 6 feet wide and located next to Castle Creek on the downhill side of the road. However, next to it will be a 4-foot-wide bike lane with removable bollards separating it from the traffic lanes.

“The design has changed to provide more safety,” Tennenbaum said.

To make space for the bike lane, the traffic lanes narrowed from 11 feet wide each to 10 feet wide, while the shoulder was reduced from 4 feet wide to 2 feet wide, he said.

The narrower shoulder should discourage uphill bicyclists from riding two abreast on that side of the road, while also allowing cars to adjust position on the road if they have to avoid a biker or other obstacle, Tennenbaum said.

In addition, when the trail approaches the Marolt Trail intersection, it will break off from Castle Creek Road and provide a better merging of the two trails, said Austin Weiss, city of Aspen parks and open space director.

Commissioners also have directed staff to lower the speed limit in the area and provide better signage indicating that it’s a school zone.

Work on the trail could begin by the end of the month, and Tennenbaum said he’s confident it will be built this summer for use next spring and summer.

“I’m optimistic we can get this project done this year,” he said.