Highway 82 underpass advances in Basalt
if you go
What: Open house on Basalt underpass
When: Wednesday, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Basalt Regional Library
After more than a decade of debating how to safely get pedestrians from one side of its fragmented town to another, Basalt is on the path to building an underpass beneath Highway 82.
The town is teaming up with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Colorado Department of Transportation on a $3.8 million underpass slightly upvalley from the intersection of Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue.
“The idea for an underpass has been on the table for a long time,” CDOT spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said. “It’s a busy intersection.”
Discussions among town leaders have been bogged down in the past when considering Basalt Avenue or Midland Avenue as the appropriate location for an underpass or overpass or whether a connection should be for pedestrians only or vehicles, as well.
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Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, who previously served as a town councilwoman, said RFTA’s decision to expand its park-and-ride on the south side and make the location one of its bus stops for expanded service made the location for the underpass “a no-brainer.”
She said there is high demand for a safer way to cross the highway. The high school is on the south side of the highway, as is the bus stop. In addition, many young families in the Southside neighborhood send their kids to the middle and elementary schools, on the opposite side of the highway.
CDOT has identified the underpass as a project needed for safety, Trulove said. It has the second-highest priority for projects of its type in the northwest Colorado region, she said, so funds have been made available.
The project is earmarked for $1 million in Regional Priority Plan funds, $800,000 in FASTER safety funds and $216,000 from the Transportation Alternatives Program, which is money for trail systems, according to Trulove.
RFTA has pledged roughly $500,000 for the project, according to Basalt Town Engineer Larry Thompson, and the town government has as much as $1 million available in its Parks, Open Space and Trails budget. Additional funds will be sought in grants or from the town’s general fund.
The target is to start the project in July and have it operational by late next fall, Thompson said. Landscaping and final touches would be completed in 2016.
“It’s in the design stage right now,” Thompson said.
Basalt residents and other valley residents interested in the project will have a chance to offer comments today at an open house. Staff will be available to answer questions and take comments from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the community meeting room at the Basalt Regional Library.
The public’s input is wanted on the aesthetics of the underpass and its approaches. Two underpasses were built in recent years on Highway 82: one at Willits and another at the Aspen Business Center. Older underpasses exist at El Jebel and the Aspen Golf Course.
“We’re not sure we want to copy any of those,” Thompson said.
One key issue will be constructing an underpass that pedestrians feel safe using. Thompson said the ability to see the entire length of the underpass is a key.
“If you see the other end, it’s been my experience that people feel more comfortable,” he said.
The Basalt underpass won’t include a skylight because there isn’t a median where one can be accommodated.
In addition to helping bus riders and schoolchildren negotiate the highway more easily, the underpass will provide an important link between downtown Basalt and the Rio Grande Trail. It also will eliminate the need for vehicles at the busy intersection to wait for pedestrians, so it could potentially improve the flow of traffic on Highway 82, Trulove said.
A temporary downside is that it will likely cause traffic delays during construction. Traffic will likely be transferred over to one side of the existing highway while half of the underpass is built and then shifted to the other side while it is completed, Thompson said.
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