Castle Creek Trail plans move forward |

Castle Creek Trail plans move forward

An Aspen Music Festival and School student crosses Castle Creek Road Friday, heading from the Marolt Ranch housing to the bus stop.

With a majority of the public on board and costs reduced by $1.2 million, Pitkin County commissioners gave the thumbs-up Tuesday to move forward with plans to build a long-delayed trail along Castle Creek Road.

“This project has improved dramatically since I first saw it,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “The cost has come down. It’s been painful but I think this has been good.”

The less than 1-mile-long trail will run from the spot where the Marolt Trail crosses Castle Creek Road above Aspen Valley Hospital up to the campuses of the Aspen Music Festival and Aspen Country Day School. Many students currently ride on the road to reach the schools, which can be treacherous and dangerous because of vehicle traffic.

In addition, the road attracts far more bicyclists than county Open Space and Trails officials realized, said Gary Tennenbaum, open space director.

The trail was first set to be built in 2007, but 13 Castle Creek residents filed a lawsuit, which has since been settled, though it halted work and momentum on the project at the time. Commissioners directed staff to re-prioritize the trail about two years ago.

About 20 percent of the trail would be built on city property, while the rest is in Pitkin County.

Open space officials began soliciting public comment on the trail about a year ago, which has indicated that most people want the trail to be built on the east side of the road nearest Castle Creek, Tennenbaum said Tuesday. Initial estimates to build the trail on that side came in at $3.8 million, thanks to challenging topography and the tight corridor.

That cost estimate was a concern, so city and county open space boards went back to the drawing board to try and rein in costs and impacts, Tennenbaum said. They reduced the width of the trail from 8 feet to 6 feet and eliminated a concrete barrier between the trail and the road in favor of removable bollards that create a safer visual barrier, he said.

An uphill bike lane on the west side of the road ideally will be consistently 4 feet wide, Tennenbaum said. Speed humps, school zone signage with blinking lights and a possible speed limit reduction around the schools also are envisioned for the new trail, he said.

Traffic lanes would each remain the same at 11 feet wide.

The new version of the trail came in at $2.6 million, Tennenbaum said. Not included in that estimate is about $344,000 in rock mitigation that needs to be done above portions of the trail and $114,000 in possible repaving costs at the downvalley trail junction, he said.

The rockfall mitigation, in particular, is “critical” to the project, Tennenbaum said. The county’s open space board recommended that money come out of the county’s general fund, though Commissioner George Newman suggested the money might come from the open space budget.

The city would be on the hook for $530,000 of the $2.6 million, while the county would cover the remaining $2.1 million. A $250,000 contribution from the Music School lowers the county’s portion to $1.8 million, according to a memo to commissioners from Tennenbaum.

The new version of the trail heeds suggestions from the public by reducing impacts to the east side of the road and transferring them to the west side, Tennenbaum said.

“That actually helped us reduce costs,” he said.

One of those impacts includes removing 79 trees from the corridor, according to Tennenbaum’s memo. Of those 35 would come from city property — with 17 from the east side and 18 from the west — and 44 from county property — with six from the east and 38 from the west, the memo states.

Also, the only retaining walls to be constructed on the east side of the road would be near an affordable-housing development being planned by the city, he said.

Retaining walls in particular concerned commissioners Tuesday.

Chairwoman Patti Clapper worried the road might suffer from a “tunnel affect.”

“It’s beautiful up there and I don’t want people to feel like they’re driving through a tunnel,” she said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards acknowledged the large expense of the project, but said it was “overdue” because of safety concerns.

“I think it will become a beautiful trail and an asset to our community,” she said. “And it will save lives.”

Richards also acknowledged that opposition to the project exists, though she compared it to naysayers of the past who opposed the roundabout and other projects that have turned out to be successes.

The next major portion of the project will include hiring a contractor to help design and build the trail, Tennenbaum said. And while many variables remain to be worked out, the trail could be finished by fall 2019, he said Tuesday.