CDOT presses city to transfer
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Aspen City Council appears poised to approve the transfer of a highway right-of-way across the Marolt property to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
If so, it could mean that the $62 million Entrance to Aspen project is well-positioned to receive funding from the state, according to Ralph Trapani, a CDOT senior engineer.
At a council work session Tuesday, Trapani asked the city to honor its 1998 agreement with the state to transfer 8.1 acres of land along Highway 82 and across the Marolt property. The land lies between the roundabout and Castle Creek.
“We are here asking the city to make good on agreements it has made,” Trapani said.
As part of the deal, the city and Pitkin County would be given 31 acres of land behind the Brush Creek park-and-ride lot that CDOT owns.
In order for the city to convey the right-of-way, the council must pass a resolution.
And at Tuesday’s meeting, it was clear that Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Terry Paulson are against giving CDOT the land, while council members Tom McCabe, Tony Hershey and Tim Semrau are in favor of it.
The formal vote on the issue could take place on Monday, April 22, but Klanderud and Paulson hope to push the vote back until June.
Trapani said if CDOT is granted the right-of-way this month, it would help in the state’s upcoming round of transportation funding decisions.
“It is one of the top projects,” Trapani said of the Entrance to Aspen. He added that it is now the No. 1 priority for CDOT in the region and a highly ranked project in a funding category called the 8th Pot.
Trapani explained that there is a clear advantage for projects that have environmental clearance and an “ability to implement.”
And he suggested that the only impediment in place now is that the city has yet to transfer its land to CDOT. “I can’t build this until I get the right-of-way,” Trapani said.
McCabe said he was ready to approve the land transfer.
“I think it is time to be ready to go if the 8th Pot funding becomes available,” he said. “They are showing us they have faith in us. And I think we should have faith in them.”
And, McCabe added, he had spoken with Hershey, who was not at the meeting, and said that Hershey also supported transferring the right-of-way to CDOT.
Semrau also voiced support for the land transfer. “I think it is OK to give the right-of-way …,” he said, adding that if the city did not, it would jeopardize the potential for state funding.
But Paulson spoke out against the project, saying that the two-lane parkway and light-rail project that voters approved in 1996 is no longer valid.
“There are a lot of merits that don’t hold water anymore,” he said of the earlier plan.
It was also clear that Paulson recognized the right-of-way conveyance as a threshold issue on the entrance debate. “To me, this is giving away all the cards,” he said.
Mayor Klanderud, who has long been a critic of using the Marolt open space for a highway, said she thought it was premature at this time to convey the easement as state funding is still uncertain.
The project includes new bridges over Maroon Creek and Castle Creek and a new two-lane highway across the Marolt property.
And it includes room for a “transit platform” to accommodate either buses or light-rail cars that would, in Trapani’s words, “let the community decision on transit continue.”
The section across the Marolt open space property is now the crux of a 30-year local debate about whether a four-lane highway should come directly into Aspen and whether a light rail system should be constructed.
Some opponents object to any use of the Marolt open space while others believe the two-lane highway will someday morph into a four-lane highway. Proponents say the entrance configuration will speed up the transit system, be it buses or ultimately rail.
Ed Zasacky and Jasmine DePagter of the Friends of Marolt say they intend to pursue their lawsuit against the project all the way to the state Supreme Court.
“Show me the problem,” Zasacky said. “There is no traffic jam.”
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.