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City agrees: replace bridge

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen appears ready to pursue a new Maroon Creek bridge despite fears that the 73-foot-wide platform could carry four lanes of traffic at some point in the future.

Four City Council members agreed Tuesday that city staffers should meet with the Colorado Department of Transportation to initiate preliminary engineering work on the new bridge, which would carry Highway 82 traffic over the Maroon Creek gorge. A resolution urging the state to expedite the project, however, is likely to be tweaked before it’s adopted.

Discussion of the more contentious issue, what improvements can and should be made to the S curves, where Highway 82 zigzags into town, was put off until April 8.

CDOT has $140,000 allocated for preliminary engineering work on the bridge, including a geotechnical analysis and selection of the materials to be used for the structure, according to Randy Ready, assistant city manager.

Replacement of the bridge is a piece of the larger Entrance to Aspen project and Mayor Helen Klanderud acknowledged the fear among opponents of that plan – several of whom were in the audience – that a new bridge is an incremental step toward building a new highway into town.

She suggested the council separate the bridge from the rest of the entrance and move forward with replacement of the 116-year-old span. To do otherwise would be “very shortsighted,” she said. “I think, at this point, we need to take a stand to move forward with the Maroon Creek bridge.

“I know there are members of the community who are concerned about the width of that platform,” Klanderud added. “I don’t share the concerns of those who are concerned about a 73-foot-wide platform because nothing in the Record of Decision or anything else says we’re going to have a four-lane highway there.”

CDOT’s Record of Decision, the document that outlines the plan for the Entrance to Aspen, calls for a new bridge over Maroon Creek that is wide enough to carry two lanes of traffic plus dedicated bus lanes. Bus lanes are the interim transit component in the plan, given the current lack of support for the other mass-transit option – light rail.

“The bridge does need to be replaced at some point in the future, but the width of it concerns me,” said Councilman Terry Paulson, who’s challenging Klanderud for the mayor’s seat this spring. “To me, it’s like building a four-lane highway up to a certain point and saying that’s where it’s going to stop.”

There’s no voter approval to use the new bridge for four lanes of traffic, noted City Attorney John Worcester. When voters authorized use of open space for the Entrance to Aspen in 1996, it was for a two-lane parkway plus light rail. Part of that open space is in the gorge below the new bridge. There is no authorization to use the bridge for bus lanes without another vote, he said.

The bridge could carry two lanes of traffic, separated by an extraordinarily wide median, and a pedestrian sidewalk, Ready said. But, it would be wide enough for bus lanes if they are approved at some point in the future.

“The only reason not to support this is the fear that the bridge would be used for something we don’t want, i.e. a four-lane, bus lanes or whatever,” said Councilman Tim Semrau. “The use is limited to a two-lane without another vote.”

“It’s fine with me if it’s two lanes,” Klanderud said. “We have the platform and then we have what’s in the platform.”

CDOT won’t build a new $25 million to $30 million bridge that can’t accommodate more than the two lanes of traffic that cross over the existing bridge, added Councilman Tony Hershey. The ability to put dedicated bus lanes on the bridge at some point needs to be there in the event light rail never becomes a reality, he argued.

Light rail would go over a narrowed platform on the existing bridge, which was originally built as a railroad trestle.

“You can’t shut the door to what’s going to be in the future and the future is mass transit,” said local real estate broker Ritchie Cohen. “You cannot build the same piece of crap that’s up there now for the future.”


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