City model attempts to explain the ‘straight shot’ | AspenTimes.com

City model attempts to explain the ‘straight shot’

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A model of the proposed alignment for the Entrance to Aspen project confronts visitors walking in the front door to City Hall.

It’s on a tiny 1:100 scale, but is nonetheless representative of a potential method of driving into Aspen that voters will either support or reject on Nov. 5.

A large portion of the Entrance to Aspen has already been completed in the past several years, including the widening of Highway 82 in several locations and the reworking of intersections.

The Aspen roundabout was built in 1999, eliminating a stoplight and adding a lane for buses. A stoplight at the municipal golf course was added, along with trails, new tennis courts and a club house for nordic skiing and golf.

But what voters will mark on ballots this fall is very specific to how motorists drive from the roundabout into Aspen in the future. The choices are simple: either the current “S-curves” with two 90-degree turns on and off 7th Street and past the stoplight at Cemetery Lane, or the “Modified Direct Alignment” that departs the roundabout via the Thomas Open Space, passes through the Marolt Open Space where it enters a 400-foot tunnel, rolls over a new Castle Creek Bridge and through a stoplight at 7th and Main.

Maybe it’s not as simple as it sounds, since calling the proposed alignment a “straight shot” and speculation over its specifics have left some residents questioning what the plan actually entails.

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Assistant City Manager Randy Ready is the first to point out that calling the proposed alignment a “straight shot” isn’t his preferred terminology. This alignment has been reworked several times, he said, to avoid just becoming a stick-straight path into Aspen.

Although some plans developed during the 1980s for the entrance project were deemed a “straight shot” because they planned for direct passage into Aspen, the new alignment proposed this time avoids features such as the hang glider landing area, the community garden and a century-old berm that was part of the Midland Railroad.

This alignment involves what Ready calls a “lazy curve,” bending southeast 600 feet after exiting the roundabout in a slight traffic-calming effect, since drivers won’t be able to see their destination when entering the curve. Just ahead is a tunnel, constructed 18 feet underground to preserve the area’s open space, Ready said.

The tunnel is aptly named a “cut and cover tunnel” because the land is excavated, concrete walls and supports are poured in the area, and space to drive through is covered on top and replanted with vegetation. The top of the tunnel remains on level with the rest of the surrounding terrain, and vehicles will be driving at 18 feet below the surface.

At 400 feet long, Ready said it would take about 10 seconds to drive through the tunnel at a speed of 25 mph. As for the entrance to the tunnel, the road will begin to slope gradually down to that final 18-foot depth as soon as cars begin to travel through the open space. This is a feature that is depicted on the model in City Hall, but is also difficult to see with the naked eye.

On the other end of the tunnel, the roadway comes out just about level with the new Castle Creek Bridge in the proposed project. The Thomas/Marolt open space gradually slopes toward the Castle Creek Valley, so less grade changes need to be constructed on the Aspen side of the tunnel.

There is a bicycle/pedestrian trail planned to pass directly over the tunnel through the open space property, connecting with the already-in-place Marolt Bridge. Ready said the amount of trails in the area will adequately discourage pedestrians and bicyclists from using either the new Castle Creek Bridge or the tunnel.

The stoplight at the intersection of 7th and Main is the only new stoplight in the new project. Its purpose is mainly for motorists from 7th Street to turn left onto Main Street, or for drivers coming from downvalley to turn left onto 7th Street, heading toward Cemetery Lane.

Some critics have questioned whether this stoplight would back up traffic in the area as the light may at Cemetery Lane, leaving motorists idling on the new Castle Creek Bridge or even backed up into the tunnel. But Ready said that concern is part of a misperception about the current Cemetery Lane light.

“That’s a huge misperception about the impact of that light. In the S-curves themselves you have to slow to 5 miles per hour to make two 90-degree turns and then step on the gas,” he said. “It just has an accordion effect, backing things up from that. I encourage people to look at what’s happening elsewhere in the system.”

Ready said the new stoplight will work on the same cycle as the Cemetery Lane light, only turning green for 13 seconds in the less-traveled direction if triggered by a waiting car, giving heavy preference to through traffic on the new highway alignment.

As for the S-curves, as part of the modified direct alignment the roads would be given back to the city of Aspen from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The streets would become residential, as would the older Castle Creek Bridge built in the 1940s.

CDOT has agreed to bring the bridge up to good condition, refurbishing it to handle residential traffic in and out of Cemetery Lane. The lane’s stoplight would be eliminated, and Ready said the new alignment would discourage traffic from cutting through Aspen’s West End to get to the highway.

As for the roadway that currently carries traffic to the roundabout from Cemetery Lane, Ready said the land would be reclaimed as open space with some replanting work. From Cemetery Lane some “pavers” would connect the lane with the bike trail, giving emergency vehicles a way to access the new Castle Creek Bridge from a different direction in the event of a large accident.

Ready said these pavers can support the weight of emergency vehicles, but can be planted over so they are virtually invisible. He said in the rare event of an emergency on the bridge, the vehicles would drive along the trail to reach the scene.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]