Court delivers third strike to ‘straight-shot’
The straight-shot alignment of Highway 82 across the Marolt Open Space got a third strike called against it Thursday, but it remains to be seen if three strikes means it’s out.The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to vacate or throw out its earlier decision that the U.S. Department of Transportation had complied with a federal law that prevents use of public parks for roads.The U.S. DOT, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Transportation, wanted to create a new Entrance to Aspen by pairing a rerouted Highway 82 with a dedicated mass-transit corridor across the Thomas/Marolt open space immediately upvalley from the roundabout.The feds and CDOT said the plan would comply with the federal law 4(f), which prohibits use of parks, by stuffing the highway into a 400-foot tunnel before it crosses a new bridge and connects with Main Street. The surface of the tunnel would be landscaped to minimize the loss of open space.A group called the Friends of Marolt Park filed a lawsuit in federal district court in 1999 maintaining that the highway plan wasn’t good enough to satisfy 4(f) criteria. A judge ruled in favor of the transportation departments in 2002, so Friends of Marolt appealed.The ruling in their favor adds obstacles to the straight-shot plan. CDOT has never dedicated the funding necessary to build the project. In addition, during Aspen’s latest election in the ongoing straight-shot versus S-curves alignment debate, voters favored the S-curves over the straight-shot alignment in a “non-binding” vote. The ruling by the appeals court Thursday was the third strike.Officials with the transportation departments couldn’t be reached for comment by deadline Thursday. Their only recourse is to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.Friends of Marolt were obviously pleased with the decision, even though their request to require the federal agency to undertake a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement wasn’t ordered.”This is a big victory for now, but we aren’t letting our guard down,” said Yasmine dePagter, president of Friends of Marolt Park and Open Space in a statement released by the organization.She noted that the court’s ruling said there are “significant contingencies” that must be met before construction can happen. Those contingencies include funding and voter approval, she said.”There is nothing concrete about a highway that may never be built,” said the ruling by the appeals court.And if those contingencies are met, Friends of Marolt can file a new lawsuit challenging whether the agency’s 4(f) law was satisfied, the ruling stated.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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