City seeks entrance input today
ASPEN Before Aspen voters are again asked to give direction on the Entrance to Aspen, the community at large has a chance to vote informally Tuesday on the ever-thorny topic.Tuesday’s voting – at a pair of public meetings at the Wheeler Opera House – could help shape whatever question comes next at the real ballot box.The sessions, from noon to 2 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m., will make use of the well-received keypad voting technology that the city first employed about a year ago to gauge the community’s thoughts on Aspen’s character, particularly as it relates to growth and development. For the meetings, anyone who’s interested is invited to participate, regardless of where they reside or whether or not they’re registered voters.This time, the questions will focus on the entrance, starting with 10 community objectives regarding the entrance that were established in 1995 by a combination of elected officials, state and federal representatives and citizens. Those objectives formed the basis for the so-called “preferred alternative” – a plan to reroute Highway 82 over open space between the roundabout and the upper end of Main Street. Light rail, or interim bus lanes, were envisioned as the transit component for that alternative.”We want to ask the community what they think of these objectives, and if they’re still relevant,” explained Mitzi Rapkin, director of communications for the city.In all, participants will use a keypad to respond to about 60 questions on the issue. The technology allows each vote to be tabulated immediately.Citizens will also be asked to weigh in on proposals for the entrance that have emerged from a recent series of community meetings, held from Aspen to El Jebel.”We’ve heard various solutions from people, so we want to find out what the community at large thinks,” Rapkin said. “The split shot is one that’s totally popular. People seem to like it, but now we can find out.”The “split shot,” an alternative to the “straight shot” realignment, would carry inbound traffic over the alignment spelled out in the preferred alternative, bypassing the S-curves, and leave outbound traffic on the existing highway alignment. It was considered in the 1990s as the community and Colorado Department of Transportation hashed out the total realignment (the straight shot) that was ultimately pegged as the preferred alternative, but with campaigns for a City Council and mayoral election under way, the idea is getting renewed debate.Participants Tuesday won’t be asked about dedicated bus lanes between Buttermilk and the roundabout – a proposal that is already on the May 8 ballot and is fueling a campaign battle of its own.”The bus lanes, we won’t really be talking about at all,” Rapkin said. “The voters are going to the ballot, they can tell us what they think of that on the ballot.”Instead, the sessions will focus on the most contentious piece of the entrance puzzle – how to solve traffic congestion and improve transit between the roundabout and the upper end of Main Street.The state recently concluded that the Environmental Impact Statement that supports the preferred alternative is still valid, but the city is wondering if it should ask the state to reopen the process and start looking at alternatives anew. Even the process of re-evaluation comes with a price tag – a consideration that may have local, financial implications.The City Council will be looking for guidance from the results of Tuesday’s meetings as it mulls its options, but participants should keep in mind that whatever comes out of the informal voting will provide broad-based direction to the city. Citizens won’t be figuring out the finer points of the entrance solution.Support for the split shot, for example, wouldn’t decide issues like whether there would be dedicated bus lanes or bus/HOV lanes, Rapkin said.”People have to keep this at the conceptual level. There’s no way we can address every nuance of this issue,” she said.At the end of the day, citizens will be voting on what exists versus something new, and if it’s something new, what?One thing certainly isn’t new – the issue.
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