CDOT is poised for next steps on entrance | AspenTimes.com

CDOT is poised for next steps on entrance

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Monday’s vote by the Aspen City Council to transfer land to the Colorado Department of Transportation removed a hurdle in front of the Entrance to Aspen project. But the project faces other challenges.

There is still the matter of getting funding secured for the endeavor, which includes two major bridges and a tunnel, as well as a series of right of way negotiations with private landowners along the alignment.

The first step in the wake of the council’s 3-to-2 vote to transfer eight acres to the state is to formally close the transaction, which should take about a month, according to Joe Elsen, the CDOT resident engineer whose purview includes Highway 82.

After that, CDOT plans to do some geologic investigation of the Marolt-Thomas property by bringing in a rig to drill soil samples.

“That is something we do on pretty much every highway project,” said Elsen. “We go out and take core samples to see where the rock is and what kind of bearing capacity we can rely on for the substructure elements.”

The drilling will help CDOT put a more precise figure on the estimated $62 million price tag for the entrance project.

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CDOT currently has just enough money set aside in the Entrance to Aspen budget for the drilling, Elsen said. And in order for two more steps to be taken, the project will need to move further along in the budget process.

Those steps include negotiating the additional rights of way needed for the project from private landowners and conducting more detailed engineering.

One argument for the City Council to transfer its property to CDOT sooner rather than later was that it would make a difference in the state’s transportation budgeting process.

The state legislature is set to end its session on May 8, which should help clear up questions regarding how much money is available for transportation projects next year.

On May 15, the Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee plans to meet to prioritize projects from the different transportation planning regions around the state.

The Entrance to Aspen project is expected to fare well in that process as it now has both environmental clearance and the “ability to implement” within five years.

“We’re optimistic,” said Elsen. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

If and when funding for the project is approved, Elsen said the next step is to move forward with right of way negotiations.

“Until the budget action gets set forth, we are still constrained fiscally,” he said. “Once you start up a [right of way] process, you need to have the funds to follow through with it.”

Another future step is to better understand what the project actually entails from a physical standpoint.

Elsen said the 400-foot long cut-and-cover tunnel on the Marolt-Thomas property is not much more than a super-sized pedestrian underpass.

“You dig a hole, pour some concrete, and backfill over the top of it,” he said.

And while not as complex as the ongoing Snowmass Canyon project, the bridges across Maroon and Castle creeks are still significant projects.

“I think this would be an attractive project for contractors,” Elsen said. “And the contractors out there have their pencils sharpened a little bit more.”

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