CDOT to open Old Stage Rd. near golf club
Reports that Gov. Bill Owens intervened directly in a road dispute between Aspen and a posh private club are apparently untrue.But the state’s top transportation official did get involved, and his work on the problem should please patrons at the Maroon Creek Club. The club spent much of last year attempting to halt construction of housing for students of the Aspen Music School and Festival.Colorado Department of Transportation director Tom Norton said last week that the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and state are on the verge of signing an agreement that will reopen the intersection of Highway 82 and Old Stage Road.Access to the housing has been a long-standing bone of contention between the private golf and tennis club and the Music Associates of Aspen. Right now, the city and the Music Associates are completing work on a 100-unit complex on the city-owned Burlingame Ranch – a few hundred yards from the club. It is planned as seasonal housing for music students in the summer and employees in the winter.The Aspen Times learned about the governor’s alleged involvement from a local citizen who has been following the dispute. County Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper and a source at the transportation department both told the paper that Gov. Owens ordered the intersection reopened against the advice of local highway engineers, including Highway 82 project manager Ralph Trapani.Speaking to speculation that the governor’s alleged involvement was related to campaign contributions from Maroon Creek Club members, CDOT’s Norton said, “That’s a bunch of bull.” A spokesman for the governor added, “we don’t have any control over those decisions.”The manager and CEO of the Maroon Creek Club declined to comment, and the club’s attorneys at the Aspen firm of Garfield & Hecht did not answer messages seeking comment.The Maroon Creek Club has been fighting the housing project at Burlingame Ranch since it was first proposed in the winter of 1998. In April 1999, it filed two lawsuits: one arguing the city was “arbitrary and capricious” in its approval of the development; the other that the club and its members should not be subject to the traffic generated by students and employees who will live in the new housing. The first suit was dismissed and the second is scheduled for a settlement conference next month.As currently planned, residents will access the housing via New Stage Road, which goes beneath Highway 82 and winds through the club’s grounds and employee housing units. The creation of New Stage Road was one of the conditions of the Maroon Creek Club’s approval, and it resulted in the closure of Old Stage Road.The Maroon Creek Club wants the city and CDOT to reopen Old Stage Road so that residents of the new housing don’t affect the club and its members. CDOT officials were initially unmoved by the club’s woes, however.In an April 1999 interview on the subject, Trapani said, “Limiting access is a very critical element to the Highway 82 project. Aside from not allowing new accesses, we’ve been consolidating existing roads because the more accesses, the more side friction, and the more opportunity for accidents. CDOT’s very supportive of affordable housing and in terms of transit and Highway 82, what’s in place is a pretty good solution.” Trapani could not be reached for comment last week.But Norton said he has been negotiating a plan to reopen Old Stage Road for much of the last year. He said he took up the issue after he realized the potential legal problems that could arise from all the changes in ownership and government jurisdiction over the years.”I get involved with these kinds of disputes, especially access disputes, all the time,” Norton said. He added that he has recently been involved in nearly identical disputes in Greeley, Lamar and Denver.Norton said the plan under consideration for Old Stage Road is to create a three-way intersection at Highway 82 with a weight-controlled traffic light. The weight of vehicles waiting on Old Stage Road will trigger the light, allowing motorists access to the busy highway.A CDOT official said the department is negotiating a change in a work order with the contractor, and reviewing the construction schedule to decide the best time in the next 18 months to build the new intersection.
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