Entrance study redux under way | AspenTimes.com

Entrance study redux under way

It will be sometime in November before local officials know whether a nearly decade-old plan for the Entrance to Aspen is still valid.A national engineering firm with offices in Denver has been hired to re-evaluate the environmental clearances that led to the 1998 Record of Decision – a document that laid out a plan for a two-lane highway and light rail as the preferred alternative to move traffic in and out of Aspen’s clogged entrance on the west side of town. Two lanes of general traffic plus two dedicated bus lanes were identified as an interim alternative to the highway/light rail solution, but the Federal Highway Administration approvals are so out of date that it can’t be constructed either.Local dollars, to the tune of $200,000, have been committed to the re-evaluation of the so-called Environmental Impact Statement for the entrance, as the Colorado Department of Transportation has no funds to put toward the effort.”CDOT has no money to contribute to this,” said Randy Ready, Aspen’s assistant city manager.Local elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, who control the shared pot of transportation dollars that’s funding the re-evaluation, will meet Thursday in Aspen to hear an update on the process thus far from HDR Engineering Inc.Ultimately, the team’s analysis could result in one of three outcomes, according to Ready. It could conclude that the assumptions contained in the 1997 EIS remain valid, as does the proposed solution for a controversial highway/transit realignment over open space on the outskirts of town. Or, it could conclude there have been changes that make one of the other alternatives studied for the entrance appropriate. Finally, it may be that conditions have changed substantially and a whole new EIS is in order.That would entail “more time, more money and a completely different process,” Ready said of the latter outcome.And, there’s the risk that an updated EIS, too, will grow stale before funds are available to build a new entrance into town.The entrance plan, however, could take a step closer to reality if the existing EIS passes muster. The new Maroon Creek Bridge, currently under construction, will be wide enough to accommodate two lanes of general traffic – one in each direction – plus two dedicated bus lanes. A really wide median, however, is currently planned instead of the bus lanes, because the feds wouldn’t allow CDOT to go forward with the transit component without updating the EIS first.If an updated EIS deems the bus lanes a viable transit component, the median could be removed and the lanes created, with one hitch – city voters must give their consent. The new span requires the use of open space in the Maroon Creek gorge beneath it, and currently, voter authorization only exists to use that open space for two traffic lanes plus light rail crossing the gorge. The bus-lane alternative on the bridge has yet to go to a vote.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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