Entrances to Basalt draw scorn | AspenTimes.com

Entrances to Basalt draw scorn

Basalt officials picked an old scab this week when they reopened debate about whether the town needs one good entrance from Highway 82 or three “mediocre” ones.

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said at a planning meeting Tuesday night that she wants to revisit the issue of relocating the major intersection to town to the Midland Avenue extension and Highway 82. She wants a regular, at-grade intersection, where the highway and a road that goes into the downtown core and to the Southside are at the same elevation. The stoplight could be moved from the current intersection of Basalt Avenue to the new intersection, she said.

“In my opinion we now have three second-class entrances to Basalt,” Whitsitt said. One entrance brings drivers to a brick wall, another to a pile of weeds and another to a dirt pile, she groused.

Councilwoman Tiffany Gildred agreed that relocating the stoplight to a new intersection would do wonders in establishing a main entrance to town.

But Councilman Jon Fox-Rubin countered that Basalt shouldn’t take “an upper-valley view of the world” and spend time and energy worrying about the entrances to town. He was referring to Aspen’s endless debates on whether to retain the S-curves or create a straight shot onto Main Street.

Fox-Rubin said the current condition of Basalt’s entrances don’t bother him.

“I like having three mediocre entrances,” he said. “It’s the core of the town we care about.”

He argued that a town can have a vibrant core without a prime entrance. Whitsitt countered that a realigned entrance and well-marked route to downtown would help with economic vitality. Sales tax revenues are expected to be about .5 percent lower in 2003 than the town anticipated.

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The town wound up with its three entrances when the Highway 82 Basalt Bypass was completed in the late 1980s. There’s the downvalley entrance that comes in via old Highway 82, now known as Two Rivers Road. There’s the upvalley entrance on Two Rivers Road, which provides easy access for commuters from places like Elk Run to get upvalley in mornings and back home in evenings.

Then there’s the main entrance. It ended up as a dog leg because the old bridge over the Roaring Fork River by 7-Eleven couldn’t be used anymore. The town constructed a new bridge over the river and extended Midland Avenue about five years ago.

The Midland extension was connected to Basalt Avenue with the construction of a roundabout, and the main entrance was retained – complete with a dog leg.

Fox-Rubin noted that officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation said in prior meetings that relocating the primary intersection to the Midland Avenue extension is difficult. Elevating the town’s road up to the highway level would require significant earth moving. The road would be so high, it would be above the post office on the north side and Big O Tires on the south.

In addition, officials were hesitant to say a signal would work there because of the curvature and limited sight distance on the highway.

Whitsitt countered that federal agencies have told Basalt before that certain steps couldn’t be taken only to admit later that they could. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, initially didn’t want to keep the post office close to downtown.

A project that would call for construction of an underpass connecting the two sides of Basalt is in the CDOT wish list of unfunded projects. The cost was estimated at $5.7 million in 2000 dollars. It was unclear from this week’s discussion if the council majority still wants to pursue an underpass, which would create a road that links the two sides of Basalt while passing under the highway.

The council didn’t resolve the entrance issue but Whitsitt said after the meeting she intended to pursue more information on whether CDOT would fund the main entrance relocation and bring the results back to the board.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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