CDOT urges Aspen to embrace entrance | AspenTimes.com

CDOT urges Aspen to embrace entrance

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Now that a majority of the Aspen City Council has adopted the Entrance to Aspen plan, Ralph Trapani would like them to care for it.

“At some point, these projects need to be accepted not only intellectually but emotionally,” said Trapani, a program engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation who has overseen the construction of a four-lane Highway 82. “It is time for the community, particularly the elected officials, to start embracing the process.”

Trapani said the City Council did take a big step in that direction when it voted Monday to transfer the land on the Marolt-Thomas property to the state for the highway right of way.

And he pointed out that the city itself recently designed and built a portion of the four-lane project at the entrance to the Aspen golf course.

But he thinks the city could, and should, form a citizen’s committee to begin looking at specific design elements of the entrance project and that it should continue to lobby for state funding.

He also said the city could help fund some early studies that need to be completed, such as residential noise, utility relocation and geotechnical work.

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Trapani said CDOT now has about $100,000 on hand to spend on the needed studies, which will cost close to $500,000 to complete.

Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said the council has not yet discussed the next steps it is willing to take and that, from a scheduling standpoint, it isn’t likely to do so until at least June.

And she pointed out there are two significant factors that could delay the timing on the project and the council’s willingness to work on it.

The first is the priority the project gets on the state’s transportation funding list. The second is the outcome of a lawsuit from the Friends of Marolt that is seeking to stop the project.

“I don’t know how eager the council is to move forward to the next step,” Klanderud said.

She and Councilman Terry Paulson are both against the project running across the Marolt open space, while councilmen Tim Semaru, Tom McCabe and Tony Hershey support the current entrance plan.

The $60 million project calls for a new two-lane highway and a mass transit component to curve across the Marolt-Thomas property, go under a grass-covered land bridge, and then cross Castle Creek before joining Main Street at Seventh Street.

The Friends of Marolt, an Aspen nonprofit with about 150 members, has filed suit in federal court to block the project. It claims that Aspen voters in 1996 approved a two-lane parkway and a light-rail system across the open space, but did not approve two lanes for cars plus two lanes for buses, which CDOT says it now has the right to build.

A decision in the lawsuit could be handed down “any minute” or “any month,” according to Lori Potter, the Friends’ Denver attorney.

It has been a year since Judge Lewis Babcock heard arguments in the suit.

“The court has quite a backlog and has been short two judges for several years,” Potter said, adding it was essentially impossible to tell when a ruling might be handed down.

Trapani thinks the worst-case scenario is that the judge may order that supplemental information be made public as part of the environmental review of the project.

But Potter said the judge could rule that there is no clearance for anything but two lanes and light rail, or that another alternative, such as only light rail across the Marolt property, would use less open space and therefore be a better option.

In regard to funding, the state’s transportation commission is meeting in May and will likely prioritize a list of projects at that time, according to Trapani, although the commission is not likely to formalize the list until later in the summer.

But even if the Entrance to Aspen project is given a high priority, there still has to be the money to build it.

And that could depend on the state legislature’s action on the budget, the gubernatorial election this November, and whether Colorado voters approve a transportation funding question that is now expected to be on the ballot in November 2003.

“It depends on how the governor and the legislature choose to fund statewide projects,” Trapani said. “And if need be, we could go to the voters.”