Highway construction likely to vex Aspen-area commuters, residents in 2022
Major project expected to last seven months as road, roundabout get makeover
For Highway 82 commuters, as well as residents of Aspen and Woody Creek, the summer of 2022 may be fraught with frustration, consternation and delay.
That’s because during some of the spring, all of the summer and a portion of the fall, the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to repave the highway between the Aspen Business Center and the Maroon Creek Bridge, including a major reconstruction of the roundabout just west of Aspen.
“Obviously there’s going to be a huge impact (on traffic),” said Pete Rice, the city of Aspen’s division manager of engineering.
Delays on the highway itself between the ABC and the roundabout will not be too bad because CDOT is likely to re-surface the road at night, said Andrew Knapp, CDOT’s resident engineer based in Glenwood Springs.
“We’re trying to be extra-sensitive to the business impacts, especially after COVID,” Knapp said.
Instead, most of the traffic delays will come as a result of the roundabout reconstruction, which will include replacing the pothole-prone asphalt there with far-more-durable concrete, he said. The entire project, including resurfacing Maroon Creek Bridge, will last about seven months, though the major delays will last the five months between June and October it will take to reconstruct the roundabout, Knapp said.
Highway 82 will not be closed during the construction so those who need to access Maroon Creek, Castle Creek and other roads will still be able to use the route. However, CDOT is seeking permission from Pitkin County to detour most Aspen-bound passenger cars and light trucks down Smith Hill Way to McLain Flats Road to Cemetery Lane in order to relieve some of the Highway 82 traffic, Knapp said. Buses and large trucks will try to stay on the highway.
“If a passenger vehicle is not going beyond the roundabout upvalley, they can still use 82,” Knapp said. “And if someone really wanted to (stay on 82), they can still go past the roundabout.”
If the detour through Woody Creek is not approved, the plan would be to plow two temporary lanes through the middle of the roundabout, a process that would involve a lot more money, work and restoration once the roundabout reconstruction is completed, he said.
The idea of the detour, however, did not sit well with the moderator of the Woody Creek Caucus.
“Woody Creek is never in favor of diverting that much traffic on those two-lane roads for all sorts of reasons,” said Bill Dinsmoor, citing impacts to the road, wildlife and nearby residents. “No, we hate things like this when they come our way. We just think the impact to us is overwhelming.”
Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s public works director, said CDOT will be on the hook for any impacts to McLain Flats or other detour roads once the project is finished. He said he plans recommend that Pitkin County commissioners approve the detour when board members hear about the project during their regular weekly work session Tuesday.
“If there are backups on 82 — and there will be — people will go that way anyway,” Pettet said.
CDOT has been planning to resurface 82 between the ABC and Maroon Creek Bridge for three or four years, Knapp said.
But the idea to reconstruct the roundabout with concrete and re-engineer certain aspects of the traffic flow came from the Aspen City Council after massive potholes a foot deep appeared a couple winters ago and could not be fixed immediately because of winter conditions, said Knapp and Rice.
Asphalt is more flexible than concrete, and when cars turn on its surface as they do at the roundabout, the action creates failures, which generally show up as potholes, Rice said.
“It’s every two-to-three years when (CDOT) has to shut it down and fix the potholes,” he said. “We have (traffic) impacts every time we have to go in there.”
Concrete will last a minimum of 20 years and possibly as many as 30 years, according to the two engineers, and makes the delays in the summer of 2022 worth the hassle, they said. The city recently reconstructed the S-curves at the entrance to town with concrete for the same reason, Rice said.
Concrete, however, is much more expensive and labor-intensive than laying down asphalt. So for that reason, CDOT has asked local governments to chip in.
Aspen City Council already has authorized $980,000 toward the roundabout reconstruction, Rice said. CDOT also has asked for $300,000 from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and $100,000 from Pitkin County, Knapp said. In addition, the agency is seeking $271,000 from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which includes Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village and is funded by a voter-approved 0.5% county transit sales and use tax.
The total cost of the project is between $4 million and $5 million, with the roundabout concrete reconstruction alone costing $2.5 million, Knapp said.
If the money for the concrete is not approved, CDOT will simply resurface the roundabout in the same way it will resurface the highway, he said.
“But I’m very optimistic that we will be able to move forward with the (concrete) work,” Knapp said.
Pettet said he will recommend that commissioners also approve the $100,000 county contribution to the project.
“The weak spot on 82 from a structural standpoint is the roundabout,” he said. “With the turning and the volume of traffic, we’ve seen multiple failures there. With concrete, it will last a long time and there will be fewer delays (in the future).”
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