Committee approves $494k for entrance study

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Traffic begins to pile up at the entrance to Aspen.
Aspen Times file |

A majority of elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village voted Thursday to spend nearly $500,000 to study the use of buses versus light rail at the Entrance to Aspen.

The study, which will focus on using the so-called “preferred alternative” route through the Marolt-Thomas Open Space, will be paid for using Elected Officials Transportation Committee money from an Aspen-area fund and a Snowmass Village fund, officials agreed Wednesday.

Aspen City Councilman Bert Myrin was the only member of the committee to vote against the proposal. He said he cast the lone dissenting vote because he thinks the Aspen community has no appetite for implementing light rail.

Myrin’s comments prompted Pitkin County Commissioner and Elected Officials Transportation Committee Chairman Michael Owsley to clarify the aim of the study.

“This is not about implementing,” Owsley said. “It’s about knowing.”

Commissioner Patti Clapper also made clear she wasn’t supporting light rail, which she said she doesn’t think the community will support, with her vote for the study. However, Clapper said that since light rail hasn’t been looked at in more than a decade, it should be studied again in light of possible new technologies.

Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron agreed.

“I think it’s good public policy to take a look (at light rail) and provide clarity to the community on the options,” Skadron said.

Ralph Trapani, a transportation consultant and former Colorado Department of Transportation official, will head the study. He said light rail was last pondered for the Entrance to Aspen between 2000 and 2002.

The $494,000 study approved Thursday will provide significant detail about both light-rail and bus-rapid-transit systems from Brush Creek Road and Highway 82 to Rubey Park in Aspen, including emerging technologies, when implementation of one of those systems would be necessary, cost effectiveness and how the systems might be implemented, Trapani said.

About $80,000 of the study will go to a data-mining company that can track the movement of cellphones and provide valuable information about traffic patterns, he said. Clapper said she was worried about possible breaches of privacy such data-mining might incur, though Trapani said company officials have assured him that all personal information gleaned from those cellphones is stripped away before the company gets it.

Michael Miracle, Aspen Skiing Co. director of community engagement, said Skico will contribute $10,000 toward the data-mining effort. The study would be done in conjunction with and as a supplement to a larger, multiphase study being conducted by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority that focuses on future transportation needs in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond, said Trapani and RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship.

On Thursday, some members of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee worried about not sending the $494,000 study out for a competitive bid process.

“A $500,000 study without a (competitive bid process) is not how it’s usually done in government,” Clapper said. “That’s my concern.”

However, after the transportation directors from the city of Aspen and Snowmass Village as well as Pitkin County’s public works director all vouched for Trapani’s company doing the work, officials approved funding the study.

Work on the study will begin next month and take about 10 months to complete, Trapani said. That means results should be ready by June 2017.

The Entrance to Aspen has been the subject of 27 votes in the past 40 years, said Aspen Assistant City Manager Randy Ready. The current preferred alternative route was determined though a final environmental-impact assessment in 1997, an official “record of decision” in 1998 and a re-evaluation of that record of decision in 2007, he said.


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