Entrance vote: S-curves or a straight shot? | AspenTimes.com

Entrance vote: S-curves or a straight shot?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen voters will get to pick an alignment for the Entrance to Aspen in November with a simple either/or ballot question that has yet to be drafted, the City Council agreed Monday.

Though the formal wording will come later, council members agreed on the general format of a question that should decide the matter once and for all, or not.

At least, council members hope, the vote will narrow down the possibilities to one alignment or the other – the existing S-curves or the so-called “straight shot” across the Marolt/Thomas open space.

“Perhaps it’s time for the council to show a little courage and put a simple, basic question on the ballot,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.

It hasn’t been asked in the past because everyone is afraid they’ll end up on the losing side and have to live with the outcome, he said.

“Put that simple question out there and accept the result,” Semrau said.

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Although the wording will be tweaked, a majority of the council said they would support a question along the lines of: “Which alignment for the Entrance to Aspen do you prefer?” Voters would then be asked to choose one: the existing S-curves alignment or the “modified direct” alignment across the Marolt/Thomas properties, generally referred to as the straight shot, though it’s not exactly straight.

Councilmen Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe both voiced support for putting the question to voters, as did Semrau. Mayor Helen Klanderud said “maybe,” and Councilman Terry Paulson said nothing.

“A or B. S-curves or straight shot,” Hershey said.

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Klanderud countered. “If you merely say straight shot, what does that imply? What do you get if you get a straight shot?”

Right now, McCabe responded, you get what was approved by Aspen voters in 1996: A two-lane parkway and light-rail corridor on a new alignment across the Marolt/Thomas properties, linking the Maroon Creek roundabout to the upper end of Main Street.

If voters rule out the S-curves, the city can focus on winning support for some transit component over the straight shot alignment, since there is no support to fund rail at the present time, McCabe reasoned. The city already asked voters to authorize dedicated bus lanes across the open space as a transit alternative; it failed in 2001.

If the existing alignment prevails, CDOT will drop the entrance project approved in 1996 from consideration for funding and spend its money elsewhere, Semrau predicted. That will effectively eliminate the straight shot option for some time to come, McCabe said, warning the council that future improvements to the S-curves will have to be funded locally.

The envisioned either/or question won’t supersede the 1996 vote, though, City Attorney John Worcester cautioned the council.

“It’s advisory,” Klanderud agreed.

“We’ll take the advice,” Semrau said.

Left unresolved at the close of yesterday’s debate was the fate of a ballot question posed by a citizens’ initiative.

The initiative is the result of a petition drive by Aspenites who oppose realigning the highway across the open space. It asks the council to repeal its decision to convey the necessary right of way for the new entrance and refrain from turning over the easement without voter approval.

The council will take up the ordinance proposed by the petitioners on first reading next week. Three councilmen – Semrau, McCabe and Hershey – have indicated they will vote it down, though Klanderud urged them to adopt it.

The city needs to move forward with the conveyance in order to remain in consideration for state funding for the Entrance to Aspen, McCabe argued. The state is likely to finalize its transportation funding priorities before the November election, he said.

If Aspen doesn’t remain in line for the funding, voters could wind up endorsing the straight shot after the state has bumped the $62 million entrance project off its list, McCabe said. Then, a vote for the straight shot is moot, he said.

While city staffers were directed to prepare formal ballot language for the council to consider, Klanderud predicted the simple question would not provide the desired simple end to a debate that has raged for three decades.

“I’m not sure that whatever we ask is going to answer this question definitely,” she said.

McCabe agreed. “If anyone harbors any thoughts that this will, in any way, end this issue, you’re not of this planet,” he said.

“It will settle it for me . I don’t need this,” Hershey said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]