Lawsuit seeks new entrance vote
July 8, 2006
Advocates of a four-lane highway crossing open space at Aspen’s entrance are suing the city in an effort to get a question regarding Aspen’s most divisive issue onto a ballot after a four-year hiatus.Voters last had a say on the contentious entrance debate in November 2002, when they endorsed the existing alignment of Highway 82.Curtis Vagneur of Aspen and Jeffrey Evans of Basalt filed the suit Friday in district court in Pitkin County. They are seeking a court injunction ordering City Clerk Kathryn Koch to approve and issue petitions that four-lane advocates intend to circulate in hopes of putting a new Entrance to Aspen question before city voters this fall.Vagneur and Evans submitted initiative petitions to Koch in late June; the clerk rejected the petitions on the grounds that they “constitute administrative matters that are not subject to the initiative process.” In their lawsuit, Vagneur and Evans contend the petitions address a legislative matter that is subject to a citizen initiative.Says the suit: “… the power to convey an interest in real property for use for public purposes has been vested by the City Charter in the legislative department of the city government – the City Council – subject to submission to and approval by the registered electors of the city, rather than allocated as an administrative function within the power of the City Manager or otherwise.”The plaintiffs have also filed a motion seeking a quick hearing, given the time constraints they face in circulating the petition and collecting sufficient signatures – 15 percent of the total number of registered voters in the city – in time to place their initiative on the November ballot. Ballot language is approved in September.The administrative versus legislative nature of petitions has come up repeatedly on various matters within the city in recent years. The city generally prevails, but in an e-mail, Evans said: “It appears to me that the city has confused itself in regard to what state law allows as the subject of a petition. It’s too bad that same state law doesn’t provide a remedy, some sort of appeal process, short of filing a lawsuit, but we’ve got to work with what we have.”Entrance Solution, the issue committee established to circulate the petitions and organize the upcoming ballot campaign, says on its website: “If you are a registered voter of Aspen, Colorado, this will be the first opportunity you’ve had since 1990 to vote for a highway design which will relieve traffic congestion at the entrance to town.”The site, http://www.entrancesolution.com, offers diagrams of two proposals to realign Highway 82 at the western entrance to Aspen. Both bypass the existing stretch across the two-lane Castle Creek bridge and through the so-called S-curves, where the highway narrows and winds through two 90-degree turns.Realignment across the Marolt Open Space, the so-called Straight Shot, has been the focus of debates and votes for more than a decade.Entrance Solution wants to present the two realignment proposals to voters in November; both realign the highway over the open space, with a new bridge over Castle Creek to directly connect the highway from the Maroon Creek roundabout with the upper end of Main Street – the essence of the Straight Shot design. Both designs feature a four-lane highway, with the HOV component left up to the Colorado Department of Transportation.Aspen voters in 1996 endorsed a two-lane highway over the new alignment, along with a light-rail corridor, but in 1999, rejected a funding measure to build a light-rail system. Evans helped instigate that ballot question, which included as an alternative, a four-lane highway with two lanes dedicated to buses.In 2002, voters in both Aspen and Pitkin County were asked if they prefer the existing highway alignment versus a modified one. Fifty-five percent of city voters endorsed the existing S-curves route, while 51 percent endorsed the status quo in the county.Since then, the city has worked on measures to make the existing alignment work more effectively, which ultimately led to the creation of the afternoon, outbound bus lane on Main Street that debuted this summer and the closure of various side streets and alleys feeding into Highway 82 in the S-curves.