Curves beat straight
November 6, 2002
Voters in both the city of Aspen and Pitkin County prefer the current S-curves over a new modified alignment for Highway 82 between the roundabout and Main Street.
The election helped motivate 61 percent of the registered voters in Pitkin County to cast a ballot Tuesday.
Aspen voters expressed their preference by an unofficial count of 1,400 to 1,119, with the S-curves getting 55.58 percent of the tally in the advisory question and the modified direct alignment getting 44.42 percent of the votes.
In the county, the tally was 3,056 to 2,938 for the S-curves, with 51 percent of voters endorsing the status quo and 49 percent preferring the modified direct alignment.
Many local elected officials expected voters in the city to endorse the S-curves but thought more voters in Pitkin County would vote for the modified direct, or “straight shot,” alignment.
“The county result surprised me,” said Tom McCabe, an Aspen City Councilman who supported the modified direct alignment. “I think the tunnel was a big deal for a lot of people.”
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The City Council put the advisory question on the ballot in response to a group of citizens who were against the council transferring the right of way for the modified direct alignment to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
In response to the city’s question, the Pitkin County commissioners put the same question on the county ballot to see how voters felt not only about the Entrance to Aspen but also about the “Exit to Pitkin County,” as Commissioner Mick Ireland dubbed it.
The Citizens for a Small Town Entrance ran a campaign urging Aspen voters to cast a vote for the S-curves on both the county and the city portions of the ballot, which was perfectly legal.
It’s unclear now what actions the Aspen City Council will or will not take after Tuesday’s election, although McCabe said all five members of the council do support replacing the aging Maroon Creek bridge, which is one element in the state’s Entrance to Aspen plan.
“All five of us agree on that,” said McCabe. “We might be able to work with the state on that. But we will probably let this whole thing sit for a while.”
His fellow council member, Tony Hershey, who also supported the modified direct alignment, also said it was time to let the issue rest.
“We were outspent five to one, and they ran a really nasty, negative campaign without any facts,” he said. “But I understand that the people have voted, and I am going to move on. I don’t have the time or the energy to keep fighting this issue.”
Former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling, who worked to keep the S-curves as the preferred route into town, said voters are happy with the status quo.
“People really voted today for something that they know, something that they feel comfortable with, something that works,” he said.
He also noted that the voters ignored the endorsements of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Aspen Skiing Co., and the majority of both the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County commissioners.
“This is a typical example of the people speaking against the power structure,” Stirling said during an interview on GrassRoots Television.
[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]