Heading for a train wreck | AspenTimes.com

Heading for a train wreck

It was amusing to encounter the line provided by Adam Preskill at the Aspen Daily News: “Evans has identified himself as the only public figure endorsing four lanes of highway across the Marolt open space, which he claims the majority of the public supports.”

I’m not a public figure, and I was merely identifying myself as the only participant at the recent Squirm Night who supports four lanes, but those quibbles are not too important.

In response to his implication, I would encourage all the younger and newer members of the press corps to compare everyone’s “claims,” including mine, against the public record.

In February of 1990, in the largest voter turnout in modern Aspen history, 68 percent of city voters said yes, and authorized the use of open space for construction of a four-lane highway at the entrance.

I don’t think it’s a stretch of deductive reasoning to conclude that the other 32 percent of voters intended that the highway be left as is, two lanes weaving through the S-curves.

More recently, proponents of the S-curves refused to accept a vote last May as an indication of support for their position, because the question lost. But the Cemetery Lane roundabout idea was actually proposed by the Friends of Marolt as a means to show that the straight shot isn’t necessary.

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The Aspen Times’ description of the proposed roundabout ballot question was: “Aspenites may get to weigh in on their preference for the Highway 82 alignment into town in the May election.” (Janet Urquhart, March 1, 2001.)

The language of the roundabout ballot question itself made very clear the intention to, “… keep Highway 82 in a two-lane configuration from Buttermilk into Aspen on the existing S-curve alignment.”

The S-curves/roundabout question received 34 percent of the vote in 2001. In keeping with everyone’s perception that nobody has changed their mind since this controversy began, there has been a two percentage point shift in support for the S-curves in 11 years.

Members of the news media might ask themselves, given the magnitude of the shift of opinion for the S-curves, whether it is possible for a 68 percent majority to completely evaporate.

Viewed from the perspective that such a shift of opinion is highly unlikely, a number of otherwise mysterious happenings make a lot more sense.

For example, rather than campaign in support their own question last year, the Friends of Marolt, in the guise of the Citizens for a Small Town Entrance, worked to defeat the bus-lane option so they could claim that voters no longer support the straight shot.

They gambled correctly that a big chunk of the 68 percent majority from 1990 wasn’t about to vote in favor of lanes they’d never be allowed to use.

Rail obviously didn’t lose because the question was put forward by opponents of rail; it lost because it didn’t satisfy the 68 percent majority who voted for a four-lane.

The rail lobby needs to concede the four lanes, and focus their strategy on promoting rail in addition to highway expansion, because the no-builds are absolutely correct on one item: It makes utterly no sense to spend tens of millions of dollars to move two lanes, and the inevitable traffic jam they create, from one location to another.

Four-lane supporters have more in common with S-curve advocates in their ability to recognize this most obvious and common sense point.

If politicians and rail proponents don’t make an effort to rebuild the tenuous and delicate alliance between four-lane supporters and themselves, they could do what the no-builds have never been able to accomplish: Convince a quarter of the 1990 majority to decide the equivalent of, “To hell with the whole deal, just leave the damn entrance the way it is.”

If they weren’t willing to vote for lanes they can’t drive on, they certainly aren’t going to vote for lanes that aren’t there.

Would anyone from the media care to investigate whether there might be some concessions from the elected officials who comprise the straight shot “establishment,” or shall we all just sit back and watch this train wreck happen?

Jeffrey Evans

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