CDOT gets green light on entrance |

CDOT gets green light on entrance

Brent Gardner-Smith

The Aspen City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to approve a land swap with the Colorado Department of Transportation so it can build a new section of highway into Aspen.

The vote came after an often acrimonious discussion by the council that hit on most of the issues that have dominated a 30-year debate about a potential four-lane highway coming into town.

Councilmen Tony Hershey, Tim Semrau and Tom McCabe voted to convey a total of 8.6 acres of city property to CDOT in exchange for 31 acres of land behind the Brush Creek Road park-and-ride lot.

Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Terry Paulson voted against giving CDOT the land and the right of way over the Marolt-Thomas property.

The city had agreed in 1998 to convey the land to CDOT but put off passing a formal resolution to do so until last night.

Proponents of the land swap said it made sense to convey the land to CDOT now so the Entrance-to-Aspen project has a better chance of getting state funding in the 2003 budget.

Opponents said that giving CDOT the land meant the city would lose control over the property and that citizens had a right to more debate on the issue.

But looming over Monday’s vote was the reality that by transferring the right of way to CDOT, it would remove the last significant hurdle, other than funding, for the state to proceed with building a new highway corridor into Aspen.

Some citizens are against the entrance plan because it crosses the Marolt open space. Others feel it will lead to an unrestricted four-lane highway heading right on to Main Street.

Some citizens favor the project because CDOT plans to initially build only two highway lanes but leave room for either dedicated bus lanes or a light-rail system, whichever the community ultimately decides makes sense.

“This is our chance to provide a mass-transit platform into this community,” said Semrau before casting his vote.

The Entrance-to-Aspen project includes a new Maroon Creek bridge, a cut-and-cover tunnel on the Marolt property and a new bridge over Castle Creek leading to a connection with Main Street by the Hickory House restaurant.

The land swap includes 2.1 acres of the Marolt open space property between the Highway 82 roundabout and Aspen’s Main Street. It also includes 2.3 acres over the adjoining Thomas property, which was originally purchased by the city with transportation funds.

The balance of the city land to be transferred to CDOT is along Highway 82 and has for the most part already been used by the state in its construction of the Basalt-to-Buttermilk section of the new four-lane highway.

Klanderud and Paulson wanted to postpone Monday’s vote until another council meeting in June.

“I don’t see the urgency to solve the entrance question,” Paulson said. “I think we owe it to this community to have people speak on this issue.”

Klanderud said it was not her intention to delay the project by waiting until June, but said it was “premature” to transfer the land to CDOT because “decisions and options may no longer be ours.”

But the majority of the board wanted to move ahead because of CDOT’s ongoing 2003 funding process.

Mick Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner who chairs a regional transportation committee that makes funding recommendations to the state, told the City Council that a delay until June would not be helpful for the $62 million entrance project.

“You may lower its ability to get funded,” Ireland said after explaining that the Aspen entrance was the No. 1 project in the Intermountain Region, which includes Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Lake and Summit counties. “It’s a well-positioned project.”

It’s also a project loathed by an Aspen-based group called the Friends of Marolt.

The group has spent over $50,000 in legal fees so far to challenge’s CDOT’s 1998 environmental review and approval of the entrance project, according to group leader Ed Zasacky. But to date the group has not been granted an injunction to halt any aspect of the project.

At the end of the meeting, 30 years of rancor over the issue was encapsulated in an exchange between McCabe and Paulson.

McCabe said Paulson had “paranoid delusions” about the majority’s desire to build an unrestricted four-lane into town.

“You have a mind-set that we have a hidden agenda to put a four-lane in,” McCabe told Paulson.

“You do,” Paulson shot back.

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