Four-lane vote this winter | AspenTimes.com

Four-lane vote this winter

ASPEN ” It’s official: Aspenites this winter will vote in a special election on whether to four-lane the entrance to town.

City Clerk Kathryn Koch confirmed on Thursday that four-lane advocate Jeffrey Evans has gathered enough signatures to bring two Entrance to Aspen questions to the voters.

Evans last month submitted 850 signatures for each petition. He needed 749 signatures for each of the ballot questions, which constitutes 15 percent of registered Aspen voters who came out to the polls during the last election.

Koch certified on Thursday that Evans had 795 signatures on the first petition, called the “direct connection” and 794 signatures on the second one, known as the “modified direct connection.”

Citizens can protest the validity of the signatures until Oct. 10. Koch will report to the City Council on Oct. 22, when it will be decided to either adopt the ordinances or refer them to the electorate.

However, Evans said the issue must go to the electorate because any change in using open space ” in this case the Marolt Open Space ” must be decided by voters.

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The City Council by law must schedule an election between 60 and 150 days of verification, Koch said. That means the election will be held between Dec. 22 and March 22. Koch will likely recommend the best date for an election. Evans isn’t particularly concerned about what the date will be.

“I don’t think there is a big difference between Dec. 22 and March 22,” he said. “It’s the height of the winter.”

Entrance Solution, spearheaded by Evans, began circulating the petitions in May. The initial goal was to put both questions before voters in November.

Later, Evans said he would instead try to time the submittal of the petitions with an eye toward forcing a special election during the height of the ski season, when local voters are in town and when traffic at the entrance is clogged ” “at a time when they’re reminded they have a problem,” Evans told The Aspen Times in July.

Both ballot questions propose a four-lane highway, with one HOV lane in each direction, over open space between the Maroon Creek Road roundabout and the upper end of Main Street, crossing Castle Creek over a new bridge.

In both cases, the HOV lane would operate as the existing HOV lanes do on Highway 82 between Basalt and Buttermilk ” open only to vehicles with multiple occupants during peak commuting hours.

The difference between the two proposals is a “cut-and-cover” tunnel that would take the highway essentially underground across part of the open space, which is termed the “modified direct connection.”

One petition includes the feature, the other doesn’t. Both proposals also include a transit envelope for a future light-rail system.

Entrance Solution wants both questions on the ballot with the hope of getting majority support for one of them, according to Evans. If both pass, the one garnering more support would take precedence, he said.

“Do not choose a favorite,” he said. “People need to vote for both.”

The alternative that gets the most votes will be presented to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which established in the late 1990s what’s known as the “Record of Decision,” the preferred alternative into Aspen.

That alignment involves one lane of traffic in each direction with a dedicated lane for transit. It would cross the Marolt Open Space with a bridge over Castle Creek that connects directly to Main Street. CDOT will pay for only that alignment.

“Under state law [the vote] becomes city policy,” Evans said. “It doesn’t seem to me that the state would have a problem with it but they might want someone else to pay for it.”

Evans will now focus on a countywide initiative to seek funding to build whatever voters approve for the entrance, presuming at least one of the initiatives prevails at the polls and the state doesn’t come up with the money to build the project.

The funding vote would occur in November 2008, when voter turnout should be high, as the ballot also will feature a presidential election.

Plus, if one of the initiatives wins approval, Entrance Solution can promote a funding question that feeds off the proposal voters endorse ” “kind of use one to leverage the other,” Evans said in July.

Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csack@aspentimes.com.