County appears ready to pave Owl Creek Rd. |

County appears ready to pave Owl Creek Rd.

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pitkin County appears ready to end, once and for all, the raucous debate over paving Owl Creek Road.

Three of the five county commissioners appear ready to authorize county road crews to pave over the final 1.3-mile section of dirt road. And they have plenty of support.

Both the Owl Creek Homeowners Association, a longtime opponent to anything but gravel, and the county public works department support the proposal to pave the road. And County Commissioner Jack Hatfield, a resident of Snowmass Village, predicted the Snowmass Village Town Council would get behind the project as well.

“There is nothing we would like more than to maintain it as a rural dirt road, but it is not being maintained,” said George Shifrin, president of the Owl Creek Homeowners Association.

Shifrin noted that county road crews have trouble keeping the dirt and gravel section in decent shape during the summer. He urged the commissioners to spend $400,000 to pave it.

Yesterday’s discussion about Owl Creek Road, which runs from the south side of the Pitkin County Airport to the Anderson Ranch in Snowmass Village, was the latest in a decades-long debate. It was also a prediction come true for Commissioner Mick Ireland.

In 1999, when the county was debating whether to pave a different section of the road, Ireland said it would only be a matter of time before there were calls for further improvements.

A memo from the public works department said the pavement would dramatically cut maintenance costs, improve safety, reduce air pollution and eliminate the need to apply 19,000 gallons of magnesium chloride to the road each summer. Mag chloride is applied to the county’s gravel roads in the summer and fall to control dust.

The gravel section of the road is designed to handle between 250 and 800 vehicles per day, but the latest traffic counts show that an average of 1,800 cars and trucks use the road on a daily basis, the memo said.

The public works department presented the commissioners with two other options, however. One was to leave things as they are and continue spending about $35,000 a year on maintenance. By comparison, the county spends about $8,000 a year maintaining Brush Creek Road, the primary and fully paved access to Snowmass Village.

The other alternative was to pave four-tenths of a mile and leave the long, straight section unpaved. The partial pavement option would cost about $150,000 to complete, but it would reduce maintenance costs by approximately $6,000 annually. It would also mean less magnesium chloride in the summers.

The memo noted that both paving options may result in increased traffic volumes and speeds along the road. It nevertheless recommended paving the entire 1.3 miles.

Hatfield thought the staff recommendation would fundamentally change the way people get from Aspen to Snowmass Village and back. “There’s no doubt about it – this creates a new entrance to Snowmass Village,” he said.

As in 1999, Ireland again found himself urging caution to his fellow commissioners. He predicted that Owl Creek Road would become the favored route of more drivers, because the drive would be a few minutes, instead of just a few seconds, faster than Brush Creek Road.

A young Aspenite interviewed yesterday gave weight to Ireland’s concerns. “I use that road to get to Snowmass all the time – now I’ll be able to fly,” she said.

“Will the road become obsolete immediately because of the increased traffic that results from paving this last section?” Ireland asked.

But longtime resident Chuck Vidal said the improvements are needed. Vidal, who manages the Owl Creek Subdivision, took part in the original debate about Owl Creek Road in the mid-1960s. At that time the plan was clear – Brush Creek Road was meant to be the primary access to Snowmass Village, while Owl Creek Road was to remain a rural dirt road. But he said times and traffic volumes have changed enough to warrant the paving project.

“Owl Creek Road is an unsafe road,” Vidal said. “I think the primary concern you have to deal with is the question of public safety.”

Commissioners Shellie Roy, Patti Clapper and Dorothea Farris were generally supportive of paving the road, citing safety, environmental and cost factors as justification.

Ireland requested more information in the form of hard numbers about traffic volumes before the commissioners hold a joint meeting with the Snowmass Village Town Council.

The county commissioners and town councilmen are scheduled to meet tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in the county commission chambers to discuss the proposal further. The final decision belongs to the county.

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