City of Aspen looking to take control of Main Street from CDOT
The city of Aspen’s engineering department is investigating what it would look like if the municipality took control of Main Street from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The process is called “devolution” and involves CDOT paying the local government an initial amount to assume responsibility of a roadway. Then the state agency is absolved of any maintenance in the future. A few years ago, CDOT and the city of Rifle engaged in devolution on Highway 6.
The idea surfaced here after City Council this week asked city engineer Trish Aragon to investigate how to make the stoplights at Mill and Aspen street intersections on Main favor pedestrians like the one at Galena does.
Because CDOT controls Main Street as a state highway, Aragon said the city would have to take over maintenance and all costs associated with the stoplights. She suggested on Wednesday that perhaps the city could take over the entire stretch of Main Street from Seventh Street to east of Aspen, near the Mountain Valley neighborhood.
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CDOT approaches Main Street as a state highway, and often has different priorities than the city does, Aragon said.
“A highway is different than a town’s Main Street,” she said. “It’s a different way to think about a highway for CDOT.”
For years, the city has been trying to make Main Street more pedestrian-friendly by putting in flashing lights at crosswalks and making other improvements. Working with CDOT on some of those initiatives — like changing the frequency of the stoplights — is sometimes a challenge, Aragon said.
“It’s been difficult to think of this highway in terms of pedestrian-friendly; CDOT thinks of pedestrian safety and that’s different,” she said. “The city’s view is that pedestrians should get the same type of priority as vehicles do.”
CDOT spokesperson Tracy Trulove said the agency has certain standards that it has to adhere to, and the city’s ideas may conflict with those. She added that per state statute, if a state highway starts acting like a local street, devolution is possible.
“Highway 82 is a perfect example of devolution because it has things like on-street parking, lack of an access control plan” and the desire to customize stoplights, she said. “Our team feels like it’s a prime candidate. … It gives the city more flexibility.”
Except that all devolutions have a logical end point, and with Independence Pass on one side, it could be a challenge.
Aragon said CDOT has been responsive to many of the city’s requests, like when it installed a new stoplight pole at Mill and Main streets and the chirping sound it produced caused community outrage. CDOT fixed it at the city’s request. The agency also has changed the timing of the traffic lights over the years, as well.
But CDOT does not have a lot of resources and staff to deal with local issues and a community’s preferences so it does rely on the city to bring them to its attention, Aragon said.
She added that she spoke with CDOT engineers last year about changing the timing of the stoplights so that pedestrians could cross sooner, but that idea was met with resistance because they are timed to keep traffic moving.
“We need to do a better job at these streets,” she said, adding that she often gets feedback from elected officials and citizens about how Main Street should be handled. “I’m hearing from the community and the council their frustrations about how to manage it more.”
Aragon has talked about devolution, taking the stoplights over and other options within her department. Now she has to discuss it with CDOT and find out what the costs would be to the city.
Trulove said it cost the agency $450,000 to replace the stoplight at Main and Mill streets two years ago.
She said she’s seen other devolutions in the state, and they can take many forms. For Aspen, it could be a risky proposition.
“That could be a heavy lift,” Trulove said. “But our team is saying good on Aspen for thinking of it.”
Aragon said she plans to meet with council in June to present options.
“They need to know the costs associated with it,” she said. “It’s a question for the community and council — is it worth it?”
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