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Highway 133 work slows commute

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Glenwood Post Independent photoThe ongoing Highway 133 bridge project at Carbondale is causing headaches for commuters going in and out of town or just trying to pass by the Carbondale turnoff from Highway 82.
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CARBONDALE ” When is 12 minutes an eternity? For some commuters, it’s at the intersection of highways 82 and 133 at the entrance to Carbondale.

“Basically, that drive sucks,” said Mark Asher, who sat in traffic approaching Carbondale from downvalley on Tuesday. “This morning (Tuesday) it was really bad.”

Construction of a four-lane, Highway 133 bridge over the Roaring Fork River at the entrance to Carbondale, along with improvements to the approaches and turn lanes from Highway 82 onto 133, is ongoing. But now that the right-turn lane onto Highway 133 for upvalley traffic is closed, the delays have been exacerbated, according to commuters.

The Colorado Department of Transportation issued a press release Monday evening reminding motorists that delays of 10 to 15 minutes are to be expected during the morning commute for upvalley motorists.

CDOT officials tested the drive several times between 6:30 and 8 a.m. Tuesday morning; the longest delay they experienced was 9 to 12 minutes, according to CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks, though she conceded the slowdown may “seem like a lifetime sometimes.”

“Lately, that intersection has been hard to get through, said Seth Carmitchel, who commutes to a job in Aspen from his residence in New Castle. “This morning (Tuesday), it was harder than usual.”

At its worst, traffic backs up nearly to Aspen Glen below Carbondale and it may take 30 minutes of crawling to reach the Highway 133 intersection, say commuters who regularly come upvalley from Glenwood Springs and beyond.

On Tuesday morning, traffic was backed up to the scenic overlook on Highway 82 below Carbondale, causing headaches for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which is struggling to keep buses running on schedule. The backups started to build at 6 a.m. Tuesday, according to Kent Blackmer, operations director for the bus agency.

“My commute stinks,” said one Carbondale-bound bus rider coming up from Glenwood Springs on Tuesday morning. “This is one heck of a fun summer.”

Tuesday’s 8:30 a.m. Aspen-bound express bus out of El Jebel never materialized because the bus slated to make the run was mired in the traffic slowdown at Carbondale. Upvalley bus riders took the slower local bus, which serves all the stops along the way to Aspen, instead.

“We’re in a double-whammy situation,” Blackmer said. “We’re caught in the traffic going into Carbondale, then were caught in the traffic trying to get out of Carbondale.”

While CDOT is urging motorists to use an alternate route in and out of Carbondale if they can, RFTA serves stops along the Highway 82 and 133 corridors that require sending at least some buses through the thick of the construction, Blackmer added.

Delays were particularly noticeable during the Fourth of July week, he said.

“The word we got from CDOT was that they were keeping their fingers crossed that the traffic would abate,” Blackmer said.

If Tuesday was any indication, the delays of the holiday week may not have been an anomaly, he said.

Reconstruction of the Highway 133 bridge at the entrance to Carbondale is on schedule ” the project is scheduled to wrap up in September ” and within its $4.64 million budget, according to CDOT.

Traffic has been rerouted onto a newly built span over the river and crews are now reconstructing the existing bridge deck. The two structures will be tied together with a raised median to create a four-lane bridge carrying traffic in and out of Carbondale.

Delays are likely until the project is finished. In the meantime, CDOT is urging the use of alternate routes when possible. Motorists heading to Carbondale from downvalley are advised to use country roads 154 (Westbank Road) and 109 (Hardwick Bridge Road) to access Carbondale from Highway 82. Motorists traveling to or from points upvalley of Carbondale are advised to use County Road 100 (Catherine Store Road), which links with Highway 82 above Carbondale.

janet@aspentimes.com


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